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Blog / 8 min read

IIoT Security: 5 Essential Steps to Secure your IoT Devices and OS

The Claroty Team
/ April 3rd, 2024

From ransomware to distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks and the presence of legacy devices, IIoT threats show no signs of stopping. As IIoT continues to expand and new attack vectors emerge, critical infrastructure organizations have no option but to invest heavily in security. 

While 96% of business leaders noted that their organization needs to increase their investment in industrial security, a staggering 93% have failed in their IIoT/OT security projects. This is often due to a lack of understanding of IIoT security, its common challenges, and how to overcome them. 

Implementing security across IoT devices and OS requires complete visibility into your assets and how they connect. However, ever-expanding networks, an increasingly complex web of connectivity, and dependency on legacy systems make it challenging for businesses to even know where to start. 

What is IIoT Security?

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) encompasses the sensors, instruments, and devices that are networked together and utilize Internet connectivity to enhance industrial and manufacturing processes and operations. IIoT emphasizes improving efficiency, facilitating machine-to-machine communication (M2M), and automating industrial processes. 

Although IIoT systems and devices have brought about tremendous advancements in industrial automation, they have also presented CISOs and security teams with new security challenges. IoT devices and operating systems (OS) are often designed without security in mind. They may have decades-long lifespans - leaving them vulnerable to cyberattacks like Denial of Service (DoS), malware and ransomware, phishing and social engineering, and supply chain attacks.  

Organizations require a proactive approach that keeps their industrial systems and devices from hackers and other digital threats. Enter: IIoT security. IIoT security is essential because it safeguards critical infrastructure, such as manufacturing plants, energy grids, transportation systems, medical devices, and other industrial environments, from cyber threats and attacks.

IIoT security refers to organizations' strategies and practices to safeguard the connected devices, networks, data, and systems within industrial environments. Due to the critical nature of industrial processes and operations, the impact of security breaches on IIoT can create high-risk and potentially life-threatening situations (consider a malware infection on medical devices, for example). 

Plus, downtimes of IIoT devices may result in inconveniences and emergency situations. As a result, IIoT security has become crucial for safeguarding industrial processes, ensuring safety, and maintaining cyber resilience in an increasingly connected world.

The Challenges of Securing IIoT Devices 

Achieving robust IIoT security can be challenging for industrial organizations due to the unique characteristics of IIoT devices and systems and the complexities associated with their integration into the environment. Some of the significant challenges include:

1. Poor device visibility

IIoT environments tend to encompass a wide variety of devices from different manufacturers that have their own unique set of protocols and standards. As a result, it is difficult for organizations to have complete visibility and know what devices are in their environment.

2. Legacy Systems

Many industrial devices and systems were built decades ago, focusing on functionality and operational reliability rather than security. The legacy nature of these systems means they were not constructed or initially intended to be connected to IIoT. Their lack of security features, such as encryption, authentication mechanisms, or communication protocols, makes them more susceptible to attacks. Plus, outdated software is more likely to have known vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit.

3. IT/OT convergence

The rise of interconnectedness has caused previously “air-gapped” operational technology (OT) to converge with information technology (IT) networks — which have not been designed to be connected and managed in the same way. This convergence has led to an expanded attack vector for cybercriminals to exploit. 

It has also led to challenges in building a unified Identity and Access Management (IAM) system, as teams need to align disparate user access requirements, user roles, and authentication methods across IT and OT environments. Effective identity governance frameworks may help close this gap.

4. Regulatory compliance

Critical infrastructure sectors may use cybersecurity frameworks like NIST to ensure better protection of their assets and prove regulatory compliance. However, regulatory requirements are complex and ever-changing, so even with the help of set frameworks, they can be challenging to navigate. 

Depending on your organization's industry, you may be subject to stringent regulations such as NERC-CIP, TSA, HIPAA, or ISO/IEC 27001. This adds an extra layer of complexity to IIoT security as compliance failures increase cyber risk and may result in legal and regulatory penalties.

5. Resource constraints

Many industrial organizations often lack qualified staff with specialized IIoT cybersecurity knowledge and have cost constraints. As such, they typically prioritize other operational needs over cybersecurity. 

Addressing resource constraints in IIoT environments requires focusing on critical assets, which can be identified through risk assessments. Companies should also optimize their hardware, improve software efficiency, and consider cost-effective security solutions tailored to their challenges. 

5 Essential Steps to Secure Your IoT Devices and OS 

Addressing the challenges above requires a holistic approach that involves implementing cybersecurity solutions, regulatory frameworks, industry standards, and ongoing education and cyber awareness. However, your organization may find itself struggling with where to begin. We’ve outlined five essential steps to get you started in securing your IoT devices and OS.

1. Maintain an up-to-date asset inventory

First and foremost, it is critical to establish a comprehensive asset inventory. Before making decisions regarding your IIoT security strategy, you must understand which devices are connected to your critical environment. 

You can obtain an accurate and updated inventory of your assets by partnering with an industrial cybersecurity solution. Tools like Claroty offer multiple, highly flexible discovery methods that you can mix and match to best suit your needs. These inventories deliver complete visibility into your IIoT ecosystem so that you can gain more control over your devices and establish effective risk and vulnerability management plans.

2. Apply network segmentation

Network administrators can manage subnet traffic flow by dividing networks into smaller isolated segments or zones based on granular network policies. Organizations implementing network segmentation can achieve enhanced security and improve overall performance. This architectural approach is essential for IIoT environments due to the critical infrastructure and devices that control and monitor physical processes.

You can use edge computing to deploy computing resources closer to the network edge, enabling localized data processing and facilitating traffic segmentation. Plus, lightweight communication protocols can minimize the amount of data that needs to be transmitted and improve communication between devices and systems, reducing network complexity.

3. Implement secure access

Many IIoT systems lack sufficient access controls, which makes it easier for cybercriminals to gain unauthorized access to critical systems. Without secure access, organizations will have poor visibility and a lack of control over the operations in their environments, ultimately impacting uptime and safety. 

As a result, industrial organizations require a remote access solution that reduces your mean time to repair (MTTR), minimizes the cost and complexity of configuring and administering access for your remote users, and diminishes your IIoT environment’s exposure to the risks posed by unmanaged, uncontrolled, and unsecured access.

4. Establish Exposure Management Strategies

Many IIoT devices were not secured by design and are, therefore, commonly vulnerable to cyber attacks like Denial of Service (DoS), phishing, and device tampering. To make matters worse, the blunt reality is that security operations teams are utilizing standards and tools that are also not designed for the challenge. 

Exposure management strategies can help you prioritize the remediation of vulnerabilities in your environment based on their risk. This tailored approach will help you understand the unique risks that vulnerabilities pose in the context of your organization and how you can most efficiently and effectively allocate your resources to minimize exposure.

5. Continuously monitor for threats

No industrial environments are immune to threats, so being able to detect and respond to them when they surface is critical. You can strengthen their cybersecurity posture by implementing continuous monitoring and detection policies and procedures. This ongoing monitoring will help you defend against, detect, and respond to cybersecurity threats and anomalies affecting critical operations.

Securing Your IoT Devices and OS One Step at a Time 

As organizations introduce new technology to their critical industrial environments and their attack surface expands, there is a heightened urgency to secure critical IIoT operations. 

Before you put pen to paper to build an IIoT security plan, you must first understand the critical assets within your environment. You can implement the remaining steps from there to ensure an effective strategy. 

To operationalize these steps quickly, your organizations can partner with an industrial cybersecurity vendor, like Claroty, to achieve IIoT security with an approach tailored to your unique needs. 

At Claroty, we know firsthand what it takes to achieve cyber resilience as part of an IIoT cybersecurity maturity journey. Learn more about what this journey commonly looks like for our industrial customers.

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