Hidden Threats to Industrial Network Security

Industrial network security is the cornerstone of keeping not only your network but your machinery, any connected devices, and any data you hold regarding employees or customers safe. If you haven’t updated your software or hardware in a while, you could be inadvertently creating an enormous security risk. Just because your machinery or connected computers were top of the line five years ago, doesn’t make them fit for purpose now thanks to how fast technology develops and changes.The simple fact is that, eventually, technologies become obsolete and are phased out. If companies don’t move with the times and adopt the newer, advanced versions of systems and software, they’re inviting cyberattacks. Here are five ways that continuing to use end-of-life technology can impact your industrial network security and potentially damage your business.


1. An Older Operating System Won’t Have Fixes in Place for New Security Threats

Keeping an older version of Windows, for example, might seem like a great idea. Everyone knows how to use it. The interface is simple. Plus, all your systems are integrated to work with apps and monitoring programs that run directly from Windows or connected devices. Sadly, by taking the “easy” route and delaying an upgrade, that operating system is now a hole in your industrial network security. That’s because Microsoft (and other OS providers) don’t support their end-of-life technology in the same way they do their current offerings. That means every new security threat is one that there is no fix for if you use an obsolete OS.

In February 2021, a water treatment facility in Florida experienced a hazardous network breach. The cause was an unsupported version of Windows combined with poor procedures around password security. The cybercriminal greatly increased the amount of lye, or sodium hydroxide, in the water. If not dealt with as quickly as it was, this could have caused thousands of people to become sick or even die.

While it’s important to invest in network security, this is only a wise investment if your tech is up-to-date and ready to accept new patches, upgrades, or add-ons as required. The only solution is to update core systems before the current tech in place becomes obsolete.


2. Older Systems and Machinery Can’t Link to Newer Tech, Such as IIoT

The Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT, describes the ever-growing network of devices that industrial and manufacturing companies use to connect to each other, to the internet, and to external points such as remote monitoring stations. If you don’t update your existing machinery or integrated systems, you could be running a much slower, less efficient enterprise than is possible. IIoT allows fast communication between devices and allows for a huge amount of automation, which frees up staff for other roles rather than having them focus on tedious, repetitive tasks.

Of course, the more connected devices there are, the more ways there are for cybercriminals to attack your systems. However, IIoT devices can also be programmed to update automatically, keeping on top of the security risks with minimal expectations from you or your team.


3. Continuing to Use Old Technology Is Expensive

All industrial and manufacturing companies need to look at ways of trimming down their costs and boosting their profits. According to Forbes, the manufacturing industry was one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and is still in a state of recovery. It may seem cost-effective to hang onto tech that “still works,” but the simple fact is that once something is classified as end-of-life technology, updating it becomes costly and difficult.

As we discussed above, vendors often stop supporting older products in favor of newer offerings. That means hiring a third-party tech specialist to oversee obsolete systems, technology or devices. Plus, when older machinery or integrated devices eventually break, getting them repaired or serviced can cost more than simply replacing them.


4. End-of-Life Technology Causes Performance Issues

Why do technologies get updated? Because the old ones weren’t considered good enough anymore. The reasons could be related to performance speed, connection speed, or even issues with communication between devices. Remote monitoring is a great example of newer technologies on the rise. Edge computing and systems that report the minutest change within machinery or process systems are all growing trends, and older systems simply won’t have the facility to integrate with these advancements.


5. A Lack of Focus on Industrial Network Security Spreads Through a Company’s Ethos

A blasé approach to industrial network security by hanging onto end-of-life technology can impact your entire company culture. This, inevitably, leads to poor practices around data security and a lack of training and knowledge around cyberattacks and the risks inherent in using internet-connected devices.

In March 2020, a major American pharmaceutical company was subject to a ransomware attack that encrypted and stole huge amounts of information including social security numbers, bank account numbers, and even passport details. It’s possible, according to security experts, that access could have come via a single user account. This shows just how critical it is that everyone in your company understands the importance of industrial network security. Regularly updating and improving your systems keeps security at the forefront of your company culture.

If you want to make sure your industrial network is safe and secure and that you’re using the most up-to-date technologies to keep it that way, talk to the experts at ICA about your industry’s requirements.


Image Credits: Freepik @Creative Commons

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