Cybersecurity Blog: The Cyber Scene is evolving, are you?

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According to technologist and entrepreneur Jay Samit, “To be successful, innovation is not just about value creation, but value capture.” Few technologies today capture value like the Internet of Things (IoT)—the ever-growing network of physical objects connected to the Internet. The ability of devices to “talk” to each other using technologies such as WiFi, Bluetooth, ZigBee and 2G/3G/4G cellular, to name a few, has forever changed product design and consumer expectations.

IIoT an Industrial Game Changer

One of the latest flavors of IoT, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is seen as a potential game-changer due to its ability to improve the operational efficiency of organizations that adopt the technology. In IIoT, machine learning and big data technology are added to small, relatively inexpensive, portable sensors to deepen the intelligence extracted from all sensor data. By leveraging preexisting machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and automation technologies, organizations using IIoT can send and receive data with far greater ease and at more detailed levels than with previous technologies.

While IIoT takes its roots from manufacturing, its applications are far-reaching. Functioning as an inefficiency sniffing machine, IIoT can help companies more easily identify issues, manage quality control, trace and monitor supply chains, and even push green practices by monitoring energy and resource use. The hope is that in the very near future the network of enhanced IIoT devices will save companies time and money.

IIoT Ripe with Cybersecurity Risk

Unfortunately, without proper cybersecurity, an attack against an IIoT network is a reality with devastating repercussions. The weak security controls found in most IIoT networks and lack of firewall separation between IoT and other networks can render these devices ripe for a targeted hack. Additionally, the use of off-the-shelf IT on IIoT can create a cybersecurity gap a well-placed malware attack could successfully leverage.

Exacerbating the danger of these devices are forecasts like that of Accenture Technology, which predicts companies will use the IIoT to increase revenues by harnessing the technology for greater production. To achieve greater production requires that the technology be implemented and monitored correctly from a cybersecurity standpoint. Unfortunately, today, most organizations don’t have sufficient cybersecurity practices in place.

Another potential drawback to using IIoT technology is the copious amount of noise and data it produces. Even if a Security Operations Center was able to track and monitor every IoT device in use, how could it handle the exponential increase in data emanating from every micro-device brought online? This noise could easily provide camouflage for any hacker able to infiltrate the IoT network.

Readying Your Organization for IIoT Adoption

If the business drivers for IIoT continue to increase the number of devices and data on the network, how do companies prepare for the cybersecurity implications? The temptation for some organizations is to simply throw up their hands and get bogged down in the challenges of extending their cybersecurity program to IIoT. Just because some aspects of IIoT are challenging does not negate the need for solid foundational elements such as:

  1. Inventory and configuration management: Even at scale, organizations using IIoT need automated solutions for inventory and configuration management. Without this, it becomes impossible to understand risk levels.
  2. Intelligent network zone segmentation: Given the challenges of vulnerability management and the increased attack surface in IIoT environments, network zone segmentation is still an important architecture-level control.
  3. Focused monitoring strategy: Because of the specialized, purpose-built functions of IIoT devices, there are opportunities for monitoring anomalous traffic that would be more difficult in traditional IT networks.

IIoT promises both value creation and value capture to organizations that deploy it. But organizations should understand the risk of deploying the technology and be ready to adopt a cybersecurity strategy that will effectively manage their risk.

Joe McMann is the Cyber Strategy Lead for Leidos Cyber. He has a long history in the trenches as a network defender and analyst. Beginning with computer forensics in support of internal investigations for Lockheed Martin, he went on to spend 8+ years in LM-CIRT performing various roles; intrusion forensics, intelligence analysis, and lead analyst for multiple enterprise-scale incident response efforts. McMann has been a part of the, now Leidos Cyber group, since 2014. With over a decade of network defense experience, Joe has proven to be a strategic asset and trusted advisor for clients looking to integrate solutions that propel their network defense capabilities forward and support their cybersecurity maturity journey.