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Securing Smart Devices in OT Environments

Securing Smart Devices in OT Environments

Posted by HSSL Technologies on Sep 21st 2021

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is all about connecting people, processes, and assets. Traditionally, devices in OT environments—machines, sensors, actuators, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), etc.—have been isolated or connected directly to an industrial control system (ICS). IIoT gives these devices a link to the internet. Now that these devices have been "brought to life,” users can interact with them in real time, draw data from them, and analyze that data via statistical or predictive analysis. The value from that intelligence is priceless and the opportunities are endless.

Benefits include improved operational efficiency because IIoT devices can reduce troubleshooting time from days to minutes; reduced maintenance costs via preventive maintenance, using sensors that can detect when equipment will soon break down; optimized procurement planning and scheduling; improved safety; and enhanced customer experience.

In addition, advances in IIoT technology coupled with the rise of 5G will allow organizations to strengthen all of these benefits. So what are the different ways that critical industries are using “smart” stuff/devices?

Securing Smart Devices in Critical OT Environments

Oil and Gas

IIoT devices can be found across the oil and gas industry value chain, from upstream exploration and production to refining and downstream distribution. And in demanding environments such as offshore platforms, small IIoT networks can be used for rig or cargo-ship monitoring, reducing the billions of dollars lost each year to nonproductive time (NPT). In the midstream sector, advanced sensors are being implemented to surveil various parameters of the pipeline to detect potential leaks or breaches.

Manufacturing

Using the IIoT approach of digital twins, manufacturers can virtually replicate a product or process, enabling them to analyze the efficiency of a system, make predictions and forecasts, and help them create a better version of their products. In production lines, sensors, cameras, and data analytics can determine, through predictive maintenance, when a piece of machinery will fail, and can help managers plan maintenance and service schedules before a problem occurs. Smart devices can optimize shared costs in the value chain by tracking and tracing inventory in real time, providing visibility and projections to supply-chain managers of available materials, the arrival of new materials, and works in progress.

Power and Utilities

The power and utilities sector embraces IIoT for smart water and gas management and smart grids. In smart water management, optimizing water usage is key. Sensors can track parameters such as water pressure, temperature, quality, and consumption, enabling utility companies to analyze the data as well as use it for billing purposes. Consumers can monitor their water consumption, decreasing water waste. With smart grid, smart meters can monitor electricity consumption and transmission in real time, which allows for more efficient, demand-based electricity generation and distribution. They can also alert electricity companies of power outages, allowing them to react at speed and restore services quickly. Finally, smart meters are a critical element of the decentralized power model by facilitating the growth of energy sources, such as solar panels and wind turbines, furthering efficiencies in production and distribution.

Transportation and Logistics

The transportation and logistics sector is becoming smarter and safer thanks in part to IIoT with applications such as public transport management, fleet management, and track and trace. In public transport management, IIoT solutions include passenger information and display systems, integrated ticketing systems, live vehicle tracking, and more. With fleet management, IIoT devices are embedded in the vehicles to monitor their condition and driver behavior, which informs of idle times and driving style. Track and trace uses IIoT sensors to track goods and manage them properly, ensuring that goods are in the right vehicle and on the way to the right destination.

Smart Cities

Smart cities display some of the most exciting applications of IIoT from smart lighting to smart traffic to smart waste and smart parking, all ensuring that cities are cleaner, safer, more organized, and economical for their residents. By managing, monitoring, and automating connected streetlights—processes like brightness levels and consumption—cities can decrease costs and improve sustainability. IIoT-enabled traffic monitoring can help manage traffic flows efficiently to decrease congestion and improve road safety. With smart waste solutions, sensors are installed in containers, enabling waste collectors to track waste levels, optimizing schedules and routes. Finally, smart parking lots can interact with smart vehicles to provide up-to-date information on open space availability.

With various industries increasingly relying on IIoT smart stuff to monitor, track, and manage various assets and predict, prevent, and control a number of incidents, a vital question arises: Are smart devices implicitly safe to use and trust?

Smart Doesn’t Imply Secure in OT Environments

In fact, being smart just makes you more attractive to hackers. With each new smart device introduced into the network, the risk increases because each device is a potential new entry point for attack. Adding to this equation is 5G, which, although more secure than its predecessors, makes for a whole new playground for hackers. Additional security will still be needed. So what exactly are the risks and security concerns associated with IIoT?

IIoT devices tend to run on constrained hardware with little or no management interface. Devices are often not field-upgradable and may have limited means to determine if they are operating correctly. They often have limited and very weak authentication and encryption capabilities. Physically, IIoT devices are often installed in hard-to-reach or publicly accessible places (underground, underwater, on top of buildings, etc.) and must be able to operate unattended for long periods and be resistant to physical tampering. The cyber-physical nature of some IIoT devices means that an attacker could potentially cause a device to behave in a way that could cause property damage, injury, or even death.

What about the connectivity and security repercussions that 5G brings? New services bring faster speeds, greater bandwidth, and support for a large number of endpoints. A faulty device update to a large number of devices could easily result in a signaling storm, which could impact the level of service across the whole mobile network if not properly handled.

Finally, with the introduction of mobile private networks and multi-access edge (also known as edge computing), the mobile network and the compute infrastructure can be placed very close to the devices. This concentration of network and compute infrastructure becomes a critical part of the production environment, and protecting it is paramount.

The result of all of these factors demonstrates that IIoT devices and critical infrastructure may soon become a prime target for cyberattackers. Right now, attacks on IIoT devices are limited because the return on investment (ROI) is higher for more traditional types of attacks like ransomware. However, this will change. As IIoT adoption increases, it is likely to become a rich source of income for cyber-criminal operations.

The reality is that an attack on IIoT, especially on a device or system used to monitor critical operations and processes can have a very significant impact on not only the business itself but also on the environment, even on the health and safety of staff and the public at large. And because the IIoT devices market is unregulated and not required to meet certain security standards, a holistic and comprehensive approach to security is vital.

Making Smart Devices in OT Environments Secure: Best Practices

When securing any system that includes smart devices, there are three important factors to consider:

  1. Visibility: Having a comprehensive view of the system and its components to understand which devices are connected to the network and whether they are operating normally. Knowing what is connected to the network is basic cyber-hygiene, because you can’t protect what you can’t see.
  2. Prevention: IIoT devices often have limited connectivity needs, and segmentation should be used to restrict access. Application-aware firewalls can ensure that only authorized protocols and applications are allowed. Intrusion prevention can detect and block attempts to scan for vulnerabilities or security holes, and prevent any attempt to exploit those vulnerabilities. For the IIoT infrastructure and ecosystem, since most communication is via REST APIs, detecting and stopping any attempts to gain access or exploit these APIs must be a high priority.
  3. Recognizing when a smart device has been compromised: Following a successful intrusion, there is a reconnaissance period during which the attacker will try to gather as much information as possible about the environment, identify high-value assets, and determine how best to monetize the breach. This means that there is a short window of opportunity to detect the breach, identify the compromised devices, and remove them from the network to contain and block the attack. Solutions such as anti-botnet, compromise detection, and user and entity behavior analysis are designed to detect a cyberattack as soon as it happens. Adding Security Orchestration, Automation, and Response (SOAR) technology can take this information and perform automated investigation and response to identify, isolate, or remove compromised devices before any damage is done.

Finally, all of the above security components should be part of a security fabric architecture that delivers actionable artificial intelligence (AI)-driven threat intelligence and provides true integration and automation across the entire security infrastructure. With a consistent, real-time, end-to-end security posture, visibility of the entire digital attack is ensured and recovery from attacks is swift. This ensures that your smart devices are protected. But if it does become compromised, a security fabric architecture minimizes the impact and reduces the time required to bring your critical systems back into a safe and available state.