A Look at the Unique Security Issues of Industrial IoT

February 26, 2020 - 7 minutes read

The Internet of Things (IoT) is quickly growing into a massive industry with a limitless amount of applications. This includes broader applications to city- and region-wide utilities. Dubbed “the Industrial IoT (IIoT)” or “Industry 4.0”, this IoT subset deals with aspects like transportation, manufacturing, energy, and water. IIoT promises high-grade automation and improved efficiency.

The IoT market is forecasted to reach $922.62 billion by 2025, making it one of the fastest-growing emerging technologies. Due to this rapid growth, many experts worry that we’re overlooking strong cybersecurity protocols and standards by only paying attention to the myriad benefits and potential of IIoT.

The Far-Reaching Consequences of Poor Security

For many IoT app developers, security is usually an afterthought. Even worse, sometimes it gets lost in the shuffle of development, only to be remembered at the end of the project, when the time and budget has run dry.

There are no real, published, official security standards that developers and industries must operate by. Security frameworks simply aren’t accommodating emerging technology fast enough. And no one has settled on an agreement for a minimum protocol of best practices for cybersecurity in their IoT applications.

This means device manufacturers have to layer some sort of security into their physical products, and this, of course, will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Some may even circumvent the hassle by not providing any sort of security or encryption. When an organization utilizes devices with no security software, it’s extremely difficult to add encryption and security afterward. What’s worse is that, once devices leave the manufacturing plant, they aren’t updated with the newest security patches, leaving them extremely vulnerable to malicious attacks.

For many organizations utilizing IoT, this isn’t a big deal until a data breach occurs, a hack prevents operations from running smoothly, or until customers and the bottom line are directly affected. For IIoT, however, these consequences could result in power outages for entire regions, causing chaos and disrupting many public necessities, like hospital communications systems.

When implemented poorly, both IoT and IIoT can have disastrous and unnecessary effects.

The Compounding Effect

Organizations utilizing poorly-secured devices start creating a compounded problem for themselves and their end-users. Devices layered on top of sensors, with physical products and software on top of everything else, all become inundated with subpar security due to a lack of strong security on every level of the IoT or IIoT system.

When a system grows in complexity (i.e. multiple sensor types, multiple product types, multiple warehouses, multiple software systems to accommodate everything), it makes even an in-house IT security team’s job difficult. IIoT systems, as they are, are already dynamic, diverse, and independent, and keeping inventory of every interaction and process is extremely cumbersome, especially as the system keeps evolving.

Monitoring and managing these components without transparency, control, and access over every single element at any given time becomes next to impossible. Often, an organization will layer an entire IIoT system over its outdated infrastructure and equipment, which further muddles the task for an IT department.

Addressing the Foundational Problems

Another looming issue affecting every organization that utilized any form of IoT is the lack of IoT security knowledge and awareness. Due to no published standards or laws to abide by, there isn’t much of a talent pool to hire from.

Besides that, most organizations don’t even really know what they’re looking for when they do understand that they need to work to mitigate the exposure and risk of a hacking attempt. They don’t know what to look for when building their IIoT security infrastructure and strategy, and they certainly don’t know how to maintain it when it’s built.

Experts recommend using a managed security service provider (MSSP) to work through the security foundation and long-term strategy. An MSSP will have the expertise, experience, and continuous knowledge to manage a complex IIoT system. Since IIoT devices have different deployment conditions, networking needs, and application requirements than a regular IoT system, a dedicated team will spend budget in the most efficient way.

Most MSSPs have also developed best practices from experience and networking internationally with other MSSPs, giving you the best bang for your buck in both preventative maintenance and on-demand needs.

But it’s not enough to simply hire an MSSP. The organization must carefully vet the experts that the MSSP brings on board, taking into account their services, expertise, resources, and guarantees. An MSSP that requires continuing education for their employees, offers cutting-edge security knowledge, includes data correlation and dashboards to track security threats in real-time, and also returns a customized solution for your enterprise is the best partner to pair up with.

IoT Security Is a Team Effort

Of course, the organization’s leadership must understand the importance of keeping security procedures and policies up-to-date, using assessments and audits regularly to revisit what needs improvement and optimization. Whether or not it’s a new implementation of an IIoT system, cybersecurity should be at the core and foundation of all IIoT systems.

It’s important that your IoT systems developer also takes security seriously. An MSSP might be seen as a band-aid or be a part of an organization’s post-implementation plan, but as we’ve discussed, security standards start at the root of the IoT system. At our studio’s Los Angeles headquarters, our IoT developers are trained to prioritize cybersecurity as a top need for all implementations. Your organization should settle for nothing less.

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