IIoT security's biggest challenges and roadblocks

IoT is no longer limited to smart home gadgets; it’s increasingly included in smart automation initiatives in workplaces and businesses. But the impact of IIoT is not without an array of security challenges — a matter of grave concern since cyberattackers are also reaping the benefits of to break security protocols.

According to Cisco’s 2018 Annual Cybersecurity Report, cyberattackers are using IoT systems to break into organizations’ critical IT infrastructure. The survey reported that 31% of security professionals have already experienced cyberattacks, while 38% said they expect attacks anytime within the next year. The survey also said that organizations with 25- to 40-year-old machines are most vulnerable to IoT-related cyberattacks.

Why is IIoT so vulnerable?

Before we look at the dangers associated with cybersecurity threats and connected gadgets in the workplace and the enterprise, we must understand why IIoT is so vulnerable to cyberattacks. Consensus on the key factors contributing to IIoT cyberattacks include:

  • Exponential growth of smart sensors and devices in workplaces that remain connected to an IIoT network;
  • Older equipment and machines often do not meet present security requirements;
  • Security patchworks created by different vendors to deal with security challenges without considering evolving security requirements;
  • Cybersecurity practices and technology not updated to current, evolving security requirements and IT environments;
  • While IoT devices use publicly trusted SSL certificates for tightening security, this is often not strong enough for industrial IoT systems;
  • Poor budgets and fund allocation for establishing cybersecurity infrastructure, monitoring, preventive technologies and awareness programs; and
  • The sophistication of cyberattacks on the latest connected technologies and IoT gadgets.

The security challenge posed by IIoT is greater

Industrial IoT, which is composed machines, sensors, controllers, software and mobile devices, faces bigger security risks for manufacturing units. As industrial production is always trying to adopt growth opportunities using the latest technologies, there will be no respite in the proliferation of IIoT devices. According to Accenture estimates, IIoT will add $14.2 trillion to the global economy by 2030. This huge growth not only offers an unprecedented shift in the way businesses use digital technologies, but will also add to the number of security challenges, complexities and diversities.

There has been a rapid increase in the number of industrial suppliers providing web-ready IIoT equipment, but the problem is that while these manufacturers are often focused on interesting features, they have less knowledge IIoT security requirements, which  can result in security lapses and flaws.

Three principal IIoT security issues to consider in 2019 and beyond

In 2019, we’ll face an overwhelming increase in security risks and vulnerabilities thanks IIoT adoption. The three most critical IIoT security issues we are likely to see include:

  1. More lethal cyberattacks. According to many industry observers and experts, there will be an increased number of dangerous and more lethal cyberattacks this year. The most common will be distributed denial-of-service attacks which will mainly capitalize on outdated software and system security settings.
  2. IoT-based financial fraud. This year, we will experience a rapid escalation of IoT-based financial fraud, putting the security and privacy of banking and financial clients in jeopardy. With the increase of such security concerns, there will be an increased focus on using deep analytics and security technologies, such as blockchain.
  3. Machine phishing. Instances of machine phishing will steadily increase. Infiltrating IIoT and operational networks to manipulate systems with false signals will become a common security threat.

The force multipliers

After understanding the significant security vulnerabilities and threats IIoT systems will face, we need to take a look at the force multiplier factors that aggravate these security concerns:

Architectural complexity
IoT device security is dependent on meeting several key system requirements corresponding to both hardware and software components. Components such as lightweight databases, firmware, local applets, web servers, connectivity, protocols and analytics engines make the surface more vulnerable to cyberattacks. Distributed denial-of-service attacks will proliferate because of the architectural complexity of the system.

Complacency is another major force multiplier. Many system administrators may wonder why a system receiving only sensor data would be subject to an attack, leading to them not deploying proper security measures. But they forget about recent attacks, such as the exploitation of hardcoded IoT device credentials in the Mirai attacks of fall 2016.

Scope of monetization
The scope of monetizing involves cyberattackers selling the data they’ve stolen from enterprise systems. As data becomes the new currency for modern enterprises, manipulating stolen data and monetizing it will become a major issue.

IIoT security challenges and their force multipliers will try to nullify existing security protocols. Moreover, IoT has largely been unruly and mismanaged without any ubiquitous governing force and protocol to date. The silver lining for security strategists is that newer security technologies, such as blockchain, and development practices, like DevOps, address many security concerns by preventing data tampering and meeting system requirements more rigorously.

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