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Blog / 12 min read

10 Examples of Cyber-Physical Systems

The Claroty Team
/ June 21st, 2024

Cyber-physical systems (CPS) are revolutionizing how we live, work, and interact with the world. These complex systems, unifying hardware, software, and networks, are at the heart of numerous critical industries and applications, from industrial and manufacturing to healthcare and the public sector. They enhance interconnectivity between devices and systems across sectors in order to optimize efficiency and enhance productivity. 

With the recent growth of CPS in every sector and industry, it’s important to understand what they are, how they impact your business, and how to protect them. In many cases, more connectivity means a greater attack surface or exposure possibilities. For example, Claroty’s Team82 demonstrated the existence of the “CPS Blind Spot”. Through their extensive research  they discovered that 38% of OT and IoMT devices which contain high-risk exposure factors do not contain critical vulnerabilities. This means that operating from a traditional vulnerability management approach creates a severe blind spot for organizations as to their true risk posture.

The first step to protecting your CPS is to understand what these complex assets are and how they operate. Today, we’re exploring the potential and implications of CPS, diving deep into examples across various industries in order to better understand the foundational role of CPS and why they must be protected. 

What Are Cyber-Physical Systems?

Simply put, cyber-physical systems connect the physical and cyber world. They are engineered platforms that seamlessly integrate computation, control, networking and analytics with the physical environment and its users. They hold transformative potential, affecting a wide variety of applications from medical devices to energy systems.

CPS is found in several critical industries. Manufacturing, for example, leverages CPS to drive automation and precision. Similarly, the healthcare industry uses them in advanced medical equipment. These incredibly important assets are fundamental to the operations of these industries, differing from IT devices because they exist in the physical world and contribute to physical processes, from machinery in an assembly line to devices used in surgery. 

Because they straddle the cyber and physical worlds, CPS must be protected differently than IT devices. While IT devices often receive frequent software updates and can withstand both active and passive queries, the cyber-physical systems typically contain devices that aren’t updated as frequently and can be sensitive to active queries that don’t use the proper protocols. Additionally, the consequences of cyber attacks on CPS can lead to physical damage, safety risks for operators, and serious disruption of business operations. 

While the Internet of Things (IoT) is a recognized concept, it’s important to differentiate IoT from CPS. IoT generally refers to a network of interconnected devices, sharing and acting on data. CPS, on the other hand, includes not only the interconnectedness of IoT but adds greater emphasis on close integration with physical processes, real-time responses, and advanced analytics. 

10 Examples of Cyber-Physical Systems

For deeper insight on the capabilities and potential of CPS, here are some examples you may come across in a range of fields.

Operational Technology

Operational Technology (OT) uses both hardware and software to change, monitor, or manage physical processes, devices, and events within an organization or environment. 

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a network of interconnected devices designed to boost industrial efficiency and productivity. IIoT enhances industrial processes by leveraging real-time data analysis, predictive maintenance, quality control, and seamless supply chain management.

Industrial Control Systems (ICS)

Embedded within virtually all industrial processes, Industrial Control Systems (ICS) are a type of CPS that manages, commands, and regulates industrial operations. They contribute to operations running smoothly, safely, and effectively.

Building Management Systems (BMS)

Building Management Systems (BMS) are designed to control, monitor, manage, and optimize various systems within a building, such as HVAC, electricity, security, and fire safety. As a type of CPS, BMS allow for energy-saving and cost-efficient building operations, and help preserve the safety, availability, and integrity of the operations and processes occurring within a facility. 

Smart Grids

Integrating information and communication with power infrastructure, smart grids are a prime example of CPS. Smart grids offer real-time monitoring, decision making, and energy distribution, which helps evolve the conventional power grid into an intelligent one using digital technology, sensors, and software. 

Smart Buildings

Smart buildings employ CPS to enhance comfort, energy efficiency, and security. By integrating sensors, control systems, and software, smart buildings manage lighting, ventilation, power consumption, and more. This optimizes resources and offers a more sustainable built environment. 

Robotics

From manufacturing lines to surgical procedures, robotics have transformed various industries. This form of CPS provides enhanced precision, increased productivity, and improved safety.

Smart Transportation Systems

The transportation sector employs CPS for improving efficiency, safety, and sustainability. Transportation organizations rely heavily on this form of CPS for real-time traffic monitoring, route planning, autonomous vehicles, and more. 

Medical Devices

In healthcare, CPS has transformed patient care with medical devices, or the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) that monitor patient vitals, dispense medication, or guide surgeries. These systems ensure a high degree of care and reliability, providing improved patient outcomes. 

Smart Manufacturing

Smart manufacturing is a form of CPS that provides enhanced efficiency and flexibility in production processes. With real-time optimization of manufacturing operations leading to enhanced productivity. 

The Challenges of Managing Cyber-Physical Systems

As we’re seen, CPS is bringing forth a new era of productivity and efficiency in several key industries. But at the same time, CPS also presents new challenges. These are the top issues to keep in mind.

Require Different Protection Tools from IT Systems

Cybersecurity is not one-size-fits-all, and as we’ve outlined, there is a significant difference between IT and CPS. Utilizing cybersecurity tools meant for IT systems will not protect CPS. In some cases, these solutions could impair sensitive OT devices. CPS require their own protection tools that have been especially designed to handle considerations unique to CPS, including system fragility, unique architectures, proprietary protocols, and environmental and operational constraints.

Interoperability

Interoperability between various systems and devices can present difficulties due to a lack of standardized protocols. As CPS continue to grow, the issues do as well, and organizations must strive to balance the benefits of improving productivity on one hand with reducing the cyber risk that comes from connectivity on the other.

Growing Security Risks

With so many interconnected devices and the possibilities of potential exposures, CPS are an attractive target for cyber attacks. Security concerns are growing day by day, particularly because the stakes of CPS security can have far reaching implications in both the digital and physical world, resulting in damages or losses. Unfortunately, many CPS devices are not designed with security in mind, making it all the more difficult to secure them properly. This makes it that much more important to find the right solution to protect these devices. 

Outdated Approaches to Visibility

The traditional method of achieving asset visibility for OT devices within CPS has emphasized passive queries, due to the sensitive nature of OT devices. In reality, passive-only queries lack the depth necessary for total visibility within CPS.

Scalability

Scalability presents another challenge. As an organization increases its CPS, handling the vast amounts of real-time data generated, and ensuring all systems are updated, secured and running optimally can become an increasingly complex task.

Compliance

The regulatory landscape for CPS is continually evolving. Ensuring compliance with data protection regulations, safety standards, and industry-specific legislation is an ongoing issue that all organizations relying on CPS must address.

Real-Time Data Processing and Actionable Insights

Any lag in real-time data processing can pose challenges within CPS, which typically require a continuous stream of data for constant output to maintain accurate, real-time insights. Similarly, using IT-centric tools can lead to an incomplete asset inventory that would otherwise be achievable with CPS-specific tools. Lacking a complete asset inventory can impact an organization’s ability to take actionable steps towards threat detection, vulnerability management, network segmentation, and more. 

How to Optimize Your Cyber-Physical Systems

With these challenges in mind, effective management strategies for CPS are imperative. Consider these strategies to protect your CPS.

1. Security

Security in CPS requires comprehensive solutions, including those that encompass physical and human factors. A thorough security strategy should include the following:

  • Exposure management: Determine the impact exposures could have on business operations and build a programmatic approach to continuous threat exposure management that is specifically designed for CPS.

  • Network protection: Without visibility into your network, it’s difficult to identify what each connected device is and how it communicates. Taking steps like network segmentation, optimization, and policy compliance monitoring is key for protecting your entire network.

  • Secure access: Traditional methods of remote access can be risky, making a secure access solution that provides privileged access and identity management imperative.

  • Threat detection: Utilizing a CPS protection platform that detects both known and unknown threats is foundational to protecting the security of operational environments. 

In addition to these key areas, some other measures to consider include adopting are:

  • Zero Trust Architecture: This approach does not assume that a device or user, whether inside or outside the network, is trustworthy without verification, significantly reducing the potential for unauthorized access.

  • Instruction Detection/Prevention Systems (IDPS): These systems identify and mitigate cyber threats before they infiltrate the network.

  • Physical security: Measures like access control and surveillance systems also have a role to play since securing CPS isn’t just about digital security. Protecting the physical interface of these systems is also critical.

2. Performance and Reliability

Maintaining high performance and reliability of CPS involves continuous monitoring of your systems, including regular system health checks and routine maintenance. You can further enhance reliability through redundancy, in which critical components are duplicated to prevent total system failure in the event of a breakdown. 

3. Interoperability and Integration

Effectively managing CPS includes ensuring interoperability and integration across all your systems. Using standardized protocols and establishing an integrating with current workflows can significantly reduce complexity. This allows for simpler data exchange and shared functions across your systems.

4. Optimization Techniques

There are many optimization techniques available to improve performance, efficiency, and longevity of your CPS. These strategies include system modeling, preventive maintenance, insights from AI optimization, and resource allocation to minimize energy consumption. 

5. Human-Centered Design

Finally, human interaction with CPS must be taken into account. One aspect in which this is key is secure access, which allows users to interact with CPS remotely to operate, maintain, and update CPS in various environments. Because remote access can introduce new security risks, it’s imperative to adopt enhanced secure access security measures to protect your CPS.

Selecting a Cyber-Physical System Protection Platform

To directly face the challenges presented above and fully leverage the potential of CPS, organizations require robust strategies to protect and secure every part of their network. The first step is to evaluate your CPS protection platform to understand whether it is capable of handling every aspect of CPS security your environment demands. 

Some of the most important criteria to look for in the selection process for a robust CPS protection platform include:

  • Industry expertise: Selecting a platform that displays industry expertise and a deep commitment to driving progress in the CPS protection sector is one indication of that platform’s merits. Award winning products and research teams, working with manufacturers to disclose vulnerabilities, and equipping customers with the means to leverage stronger protection against threats make a significant impact on your CPS protection strategy.

  • Deep visibility: It is only through multiple discovery methods that you can achieve deep visibility within all CPS devices connected to your network. This means choosing a platform that uses both active and passive discovery methods, including those that use unique or proprietary protocols, are air-gapped, or are otherwise unreachable through passive-only methods. 

  • Broad solution set: Limited use-cases can be a sign that a platform doesn’t have the breadth of experience to address all your needs. Seek out a vendor with depth in their portfolio that supports all types of CPS across the XIoT, deployment needs, and network architectures. Your unique needs and environments should be supported by their offering.

  • Enabling business outcomes: The right data elements are critical to achieving better business outcomes. By giving you the option of managing, monitoring, and controlling your CPS security solutions in one place, the right solution can help you streamline risk management, apply compensating controls, respond to threats, and manage your overall security posture. 

  • Deployment flexibility: Having the option to deploy cybersecurity products on-premises or in the cloud, with the option to function on user-supplied software, is essential. This can help cut costs that come with acquiring, maintaining, and updating hardware and gives you the flexibility to determine where and how to deploy the solution based on your unique requirements. 

Claroty is an industry leader in CPS protection and trusted across industries to deliver unmatched visibility, protection, and threat detection. To learn more about Claroty’s protection methods, speak with a member of our team.

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