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The Importance of Effective Industrial Network Security


As industrial systems become more connected, they’re exposed to more risks than ever before, potentially resulting in severe consequences. This increases the importance of effective industrial network security to stop hackers from succeeding and causing devastation within your plant.

By following the right steps, however, it’s possible to secure your network without disrupting your operations entirely.

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Why Industrial Network Security Is Important

Although some businesses have decided against keeping Operational Technology (OT) systems updated in the past, the evolution of innovative cyberthreats means they need to be.

The biggest threat today comes in the form of ransomware for most, or espionage for specialist industries. That’s unless you’re one of the unlucky ones that's targeted by a state actor or an APT. Regardless of the methods, the effects can be damaging.

We only need to look at the devastating effect Stuxnet had on industrial control systems (ICS) and how it escaped the digital realm to wreak havoc on equipment. This game-changing attack against an ICS infected over 200,000 computers and caused 1,000 machines to physically degrade.

It also showed the industry that cyberattacks are no longer restricted to servers and PCs, but they can also alter automation processes by infecting systems within an ICS.

Petya is another infamous case that rocked the world. Originally discovered in 2016, a major global cyberattack began in 2017 which utilised a new variant of Petya with infections spreading as far out as France, the UK, Poland, Germany, and Italy. However, the biggest targets were Ukraine and Russia in what many consider to be an act of cyberwar.

The attack crippled everything from airports, banks, and governments - it also attacked Chernobyl’s radiation monitoring system.

Another Trojan affecting ICS’, energy companies and SCADA companies worldwide is BlackEnergy. It’s used to conduct DDoS attacks, cyber espionage and in 2014, BlackEnergy attackers began deploying SCADA-related plugins to victims in ICS' around the world.

Since 2015, the APT group has been using spear-phishing emails carrying malicious Excel documents with macros to infect computers in targeted networks - triggering the malware infection.

It doesn’t end there either. Triton is labelled the world’s most murderous malware where the rogue code can disable safety systems designed to prevent catastrophic industrial accidents.

Then there’s EKANS, a new example of ransomware targeting ICS’ which seeks to do real-world damage by shutting down vital systems indefinitely by targeting sixty-four different software processes.

By not keeping ICS security systems updated, reusing credentials, and using default passwords, you have poor security in general. With poor staff awareness and the effectiveness of social engineering, the network becomes more vulnerable and the overall cyber security decreases.

Potentially, you could lose essential, real-time data or sensitive information, fall behind production schedules, or even face far more severe consequences, such as environmental impact, damage to assets or even death.

What’s more worrying is the number of attacks targeting organisations utilising OT continues to increase. One survey revealed that 90% of organisations had experienced at least one damaging cyberattack in the past two years and 50% of those admitted the attack impacted their OT infrastructure which resulted in downtime.

With cyberattacks an ever-growing issue and threat to operations and critical infrastructure, you need to start thinking about how you can protect and secure your industrial network security and it isn’t about defence either - it’s also about being able to quickly recover.


How to Protect Industry Control Systems


Conduct a Cyber Security Audit

To determine whether your industrial network security is robust enough, you need to conduct an audit through certified engineers.

However, you first need to identify your assets as you can’t protect what you can’t see or know you have. Also investigate policies and procedures for effective change control, ensuring everyone from the top down is buying into cybersecurity.

During the audit stage, also investigate network segregation, patching, hardened builds, and monitoring, so you know when behaviours are off your normal operational baseline.


Use a Comprehensive Cybersecurity Platform

To gain more visibility into your industrial network, it’s vital you don’t settle for the first platform you find online.

Look for a comprehensive solution which can identify and protect your network from vulnerabilities, control access, continuously monitor and detect malicious activity while responding to potential threats.

It should be one that can also monitor and feed in remote access activity which may be happening off the plant as well. Most of all, it should fully understand OT communications, not just IT protocols.

By implementing the right security solution, you can respond rapidly to critical process disruptions and system abnormalities.


IT/OT Convergence

With the line already blurring between IT and OT, it makes sense for them to converge, share event data and work from an integrated security strategy so all areas of your organisation receive the same security focus.

With a siloed approach, the risk of missing security events could be higher than with IT and OT convergence. By consolidation, the organisation’s risk level may decrease.

For convergence to be a success, both operational sides need to address the respective security challenges that could occur as once the information is shared, your organisation can battle the risks of a sophisticated attack.

To ensure IT/OT convergence is a lasting success in your organisation, systems need to be segregated into security zones and boundaries with clear lines of communication and responsibilities.

For example, IIOT sensors connected to public networks may need a secondary level of validation of their data. You also need to understand what data needs to flow, monitor ingress/egress points and use DMZ or data diodes to enforce secure data exchanges.

For a more detailed look at how IT and OT convergence will protect your network and organisation, check out this blog.

With an integrated security network, you’re in a better position to make data-backed decisions and respond to evolving cybersecurity threats. However, sometimes the trickiest part of it all can be getting started with convergence. Although it might seem easier said than done, we’ve created a guide on how your organisation can make the OT/IT convergence process smooth and stress-free.

What Else?

Generally, ensure you focus on protecting the most critical assets. Also, establish CIA requirements are met and consider an established security framework to assist. Ensure you also have a good backup and recovery option, ensuring it’s tested weekly. Finally, validate all of this with a trusted third-party to ensure you haven’t missed anything as they can help spot what you have missed and advise on how to plug any gaps.

How to Get Started with Convergence

Despite its benefits, aligning IT and OT is complex and for it to truly work, you’ll need to dedicate time, energy, and resources. If you can get both groups with different priorities to come together, then you’ve already overcome one major hurdle.

If you want some help with your convergence journey, make sure you download our guide. It features the benefits, an in-depth explanation on its importance, tips on getting started and more. 

Get your free copy using the link below.

IT/OT Convergence Guide