5 Best Practices for Industrial Network Security in the IIoT Era

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) refers to a vast network of interconnected devices — sensors, cameras, machinery, instruments, and more — that communicate and exchange information for industrial applications. According to the market research firm Meticulous Research, the global IIoT market is projected to expand at an annual growth rate of 17% in the next several years, reaching $263 billion in 2027.

With the IIoT (sometimes known as “Industry 4.0”), companies in the manufacturing and industrial sectors can realize many different benefits: faster, more accurate, automated processes; lower costs; and smarter, data-driven insights and analytics. But the novelty of the IIoT also makes it a tempting target for would-be attackers — so how can you keep your IIoT devices safe from malicious actors?
In this article, we offer five tips and best practices for IIoT industrial network security.

 

1. Get Educated

Before you start taking proactive steps for IIoT security, you also need to shake off any myths and misconceptions you may have.

Some manufacturers might believe that industrial systems are a less appealing target for attackers, hoping to achieve “security through obscurity.” However, attacks on industrial control systems have been increasing in both frequency and severity. The devastating Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack in May 2021, for example, resulted in widespread gasoline shortages across the United States, ending only after pipeline owners paid a $4.4 million ransom.

What’s more, your IIoT network can become a target even if it’s physically isolated or not connected to the Internet. For example, if employees or contractors connect a compromised device (e.g., a laptop or USB drive) to the network, it can expose all of the other devices on the network.

 

2. Map Your Network

You can’t protect your attack surface if you don’t know each and every asset under your command. Unfortunately, too many companies have allowed their IIoT network to grow organically, resulting in a complex tangle of devices that no one is familiar with completely.

Start by constructing a complete map of your IIoT network and the devices it contains. This will allow you to perform a risk assessment of your various assets. Which of them are most valuable — or most vulnerable? Which risks are acceptable or unacceptable?

Creating this map will also allow you to pursue a “defense in depth” cybersecurity strategy, with multiple layers of controls throughout the network. IIoT systems should be segmented into logically isolated subsystems with security controls and requirements between them (for example, allowing access to certain users or user roles but not others). Each zone is separated by an industrial-strength firewall or gateway, with conduits between them that filter or restrict the exchange of data.

 

3. Adopt the Right Security Framework

Cybersecurity practitioners have created many different security frameworks, each one with its own use case or application. The PCI DSS standard, for example, is intended to protect the security of payment card information when sent between customers and online merchants.

The field of IIoT, too, has a variety of frameworks that can fit your company’s needs. In many cases, simply bringing your network into alignment with the right standard can go a long way toward making it more secure. Just a few of the relevant IIoT security frameworks include:

  • ISO 27001 for information security management.
  • IEC 62443 for industrial communication networks.
  • NIST SP 800-82 for industrial control systems.

 

4. Encrypt Your Data

Data encryption is one of the best techniques for thwarting or diluting the strength of a cyberattack. Even if the attackers manage to exfiltrate confidential or sensitive information, encrypting this data means that it will be useless in the wrong hands without the corresponding decryption key.

IIoT networks should encrypt data both while in transit and at rest. Make sure to use a cryptographic protocol that is sufficiently hard to crack for your needs, since not all encryption algorithms have the same level of security. Protocols such as TLS and SSH generally provide adequate protection and are frequently chosen for embedded devices.

 

5. Install Patches and Updates

To avoid security flaws and vulnerabilities, your hardware, software, and systems should always have the latest security patches and updates installed. Far too many cyberattacks result from companies having lax IT security practices and failing to install just one critical update. The massive Equifax data breach, for example, which compromised 143 million records, was due to a simple unpatched vulnerability in the Apache Struts framework.

Automating the installation process can help save IIoT users from having to manually update dozens, hundreds, or thousands of devices on a regular basis. Users should also be able to easily roll back updates in the unlikely event that they cause conflicts or crashes.

 

Conclusion

The IIoT network security tips above are crucial first steps — but they’ve just scratched the surface of what industrial and manufacturing companies need to know. Want to make sure that you’re keeping your own industrial processes safe and secure? We can help. Check out the ICA Engineering blog for the latest news and insights, or get in touch with our team of experts today for a chat about your business needs and objectives.

 

Image Credits: Pixabay @Creative Commons


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