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Beware Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) Attacks—The Dark Side of Connectivity

Posted by Patrick Nixdorf on 7/6/17 8:00 AM

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Just as you start getting used to the idea of shifting from serial communications to Industrial Ethernet connectivity, operational technology demands are changing yet again.

For utility companies trying to get more agile and flexible through Industrial Ethernet, connectivity has to evolve even further to accommodate the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Because believe it or not, we’re closer to smart cities than you might think

However, there’s a dark side to connectivity—the rising tide of security threats.

The Light Side of Industrial Internet of Things

If security is such a concern for the Industrial Internet of Things, you might think it would be easier to forge ahead with more basic Industrial Ethernet connectivity. The problem is that the benefits and value of IIoT are starting to outweigh our security concerns. These benefits include:

  • Cost-effective Data Collection: Outfitting utility networks with battery-powered, wireless sensors gives you the ability to collect mountains of valuable data while also cutting costs compared to traditional connectivity.
  • Strategic Data Analysis: The IIoT gives you an opportunity to leverage new big data analytics solutions to derive actionable insights from smart grid data.
  • Easy Access to Insights: Improve the safety and reliability of your infrastructure by providing access to insights across the organization without hassles.
  • Real-time Efficiency Adjustments: Automating smart grid maintenance and resource utilization boosts your infrastructure performance so you can get more value out of your investments.

Defending the industrial ethernet

These benefits (and others) are driving the Industrial Internet of Things forward whether we like it or not. But while no company wants to experience a cyber attack, the life-and-death nature of attacks on utility infrastructure reduces the margin for error virtually to zero.

The Security Crossroads of Industrial Internet of Things

David Meltzer, CTO of Tripwire, put the IIoT double-edged sword into perspective in a recent report on industrial security concerns:

There are only two ways this scenario plays out: Either we change our level of preparation or we experience the realization of these [security] risks. The reality is that cyber attacks in the industrial space can have significant consequences in terms of safety and the availability of critical operations.

According to the survey results from over 400 IT professionals who work in security, the dark side of IIoT connectivity is going to pose problems moving forward:

  • 96% expect to see IIoT increase in 2017
  • 51% say their organizations aren’t ready for malicious IIoT attacks
  • Despite security challenges, 90% say they’ll increase IIoT implementation

Cyber attacks against connected “things” aren’t just theories—they’re actually happening. Just look at what happened in October 2016 when a network of IoT devices were hacked as part of a DDoS attack that took down many of the world’s largest websites. What’s stopping attackers from hacking your IIoT deployments?

Before you dive headfirst into the smart grid, you have to make sure you have a plan for smarter security. This means establishing a visibility-first architecture that ensures your security appliances and applications see every bit, byte and packet® that moves throughout your network.

If you want to learn more about protecting your infrastructure as the IIoT takes shape, download our free white paper, Defending the Industrial Ethernet.

Topics: Industrial Ethernet