The security of vital information should be of paramount concern for all organizations, and those in the heavy industrial sectors – manufacturing, aerospace, energy, chemicals and so on – are no exception. With that being said, the nature of the industrial environment, regardless of specific field, requires taking certain matters into consideration that don't play any role in traditional corporate information technology security. If your business is considering the possibility of a legacy system modernization initiative and all of the overhauling this would entail, it'll be critical to understand the biggest factors playing into industrial cybersecurity.
OT vs. IT
Factories, power plants and other industrial sites differ from traditional IT most substantively due to their reliance upon operational technology. As Sentryo notes, OT depends more on the maintenance of constant functionality than anything else – unlike its counterpart, which focuses most closely on the confidentiality of information.
This difference of priority is understandable to a certain extent: When production falters or stops outright in a factory or any other environment centered around industrial control systems technology, it halts on a massive scale. Even if this is rectified quickly, there will always be tangible losses to the organization's bottom line. As such, business leaders are spending whatever is necessary to make ICS more advanced than ever before.
Unfortunately, the heavy investment into maintenance of ICS platforms and other OT detracts from emphasis on security. This in turn leaves a considerable loophole through which malicious actors can jump and access the ICS without authorization, leading to potentially disastrous consequences. ABI Research industry analyst Dimitrios Pavlakis summarized this danger in a conversation with Help Net Security:
"Over the past years, this shift [toward advanced ICS without appropriate security investments] has allowed internet-borne cyberthreats to find their way into traditionally sheltered industrial networks, wreaking havoc to severely underprepared systems," Pavlakis told the tech news provider.
The severity of ICS and OT hacks
When cyberattackers find their way into ICS networks, they can certainly jeopardize the organizations intruded upon with production halts, trade secrets stolen and sold on the black market, severe reputation damage and other misfortunes directly and indirectly detrimental to the bottom line, according to Sentryo.
But beyond that, there is also a strong chance that the general public bears the brunt of such cybersecurity failures: An electrical blackout affecting a major city due to a hacker's imprecations against a power plant can shut down dozens of other businesses and put lives at risk. A chemical production facility under attack by ransomware or otherwise caused to fail by malicious online actors could lead to life-threatening leaks or spills. While those are extreme examples, they're certainly in play.
Shoring up industrial cybersecurity in 2019 and beyond
Computer Business Review stated that a strong embedded hardware platform equipped with high-level authentication, secure boot, encryption and software measurement capabilities should be the cornerstone of any security deployment intended to protect ICS and other OT. The International Electrochemical Commission confirms this statement as one of the principles within its 62443-4-2 standard. Also, it will be immensely important to provide considerable protection for automation operations – whether they're simple or on the complex, machine-learning end of the spectrum – and improve the SIEM and SOC tools supporting any ICS platform.
Last but not least, it'll be necessary to overhaul any outdated systems or applications that may have gone unnoticed in previous implementations of ICS, particularly those that run on notoriously unsafe coding languages like Java – and Inventu can help.