Securing IoT Ecosystems: Navigating Challenges in Industrial IoT Networks

Posted on by Isla Sibanda

The significance of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), where machines and devices communicate seamlessly, making factories smarter and processes more efficient, cannot be overstated. 

Yet, as IIoT becomes universal, we must acknowledge a crucial and, at times, ominous companion—the pressing need for cybersecurity. In this digital environment, threats are no longer just virtual; they can cripple factory, halt production lines, and potentially jeopardize safety.

Below, we’ll look at the unique security challenges IIoT networks face and explore some solutions that can help mitigate these risks and embrace the boundless opportunities of IIoT.

Common Cybersecurity Challenges in IIoT

Since IIoT systems are essential to the functioning of many large-scale industrial production facilities, they are a prime target for cybercriminals. In an attempt to hijack data, malicious actors will try to exploit the following: 

Insufficient Encryption

Data transmission in IIoT networks is constant and critical, but without sufficient encryption, it becomes a potential Achilles' heel. Data in transit can be intercepted, tampered with, or eavesdropped upon. Insufficient encryption exposes sensitive information to prying eyes and malicious actors, endangering the confidentiality and integrity of data flow within the IIoT ecosystem. That’s why IIoT encryption is the first line of defense against cyberattacks.

Vulnerable IoT Hardware & Supply Chain Risks

A critical yet often underestimated challenge lies in the hardware used in IoT devices. Vulnerabilities in the design or manufacturing process can introduce hidden threats. 

Additionally, supply chain risks, such as malicious components, tampering during production, or faulty firmware, add another layer of complexity. These risks can severely compromise the integrity and reliability of IIoT devices.

Lack of Updates

Software vulnerabilities are a stark reality in the digital world, and IoT devices are no exception. Yet, many IIoT systems struggle to implement timely security updates. Failure to patch known vulnerabilities can expose systems to cyberattacks, as attackers often exploit these security gaps to gain access or control over the devices.

However, this doesn’t just mean industrial software—anything and everything can be a target if it has contact with the IIoT network. Whether it’s an integrated PDF reader, image editor, or even a Solitaire game on a security guard’s laptop—they must all be patched and scanned for vulnerabilities. 

Legacy Systems

Many industrial environments still rely on legacy systems that were not designed with modern cybersecurity standards in mind. These systems are often difficult to secure due to their age and incompatibility with newer security technologies. As a result, they present persistent vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit.

Convergence of OT and IT

Traditionally, Operational Technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT) operated in distinct silos, each with its own set of protocols, priorities, and security practices. OT managed industrial processes and machinery, while IT managed the broader network infrastructure and data. However, IIoT is gradually bridging the gap between these two domains. 

While this convergence brings unparalleled opportunities for efficiency and data-driven decision-making, it also introduces challenges that demand meticulous planning and strategic foresight. It’s crucial to future-proof your IT infrastructurewhen converging these two paradigms to anticipate potential security gaps. 

OT systems, particularly in industrial settings, often prioritize availability and reliability over security. This is because they were simply not originally designed with the same security focus as modern IT networks. As these two disparate domains merge, the traditionally vulnerable OT systems can create vulnerabilities that cross over to IT.


Innovative Approaches to IIoT Security

Here are some innovative approaches you can use to safeguard critical infrastructure

Blockchain Technology

Blockchain’s decentralized and immutable ledger system ensures data integrity and transparency within IIoT networks by creating a secure and tamper-proof record of all transactions and data exchanges. 

This technology builds trust in the system, making it incredibly difficult for malicious actors to alter or counterfeit data. In an industrial context, this is invaluable, as it ensures that data from IIoT sensors, devices, and machinery is authentic and has not been tampered with, which is critical for maintaining the safety and reliability of operations. 

Hardware-Based Security

Hardware-based security solutions, such as Trusted Platform Modules (TPMs), offer a root of trust for device security. These physical security anchors are highly resistant to tampering, making them difficult for attackers to compromise. 

Artificial Intelligence 

Artificial intelligence is perhaps the biggest breakthrough in IIoT security in the last two decades, making it no wonder the AI market is set to grow 37.3% yearly until 2030. Beyond instant detection, AI can automate responses to security incidents, dramatically reducing response times and minimizing human error.   

It can also predict threats and vulnerabilities based on historical data, providing organizations with a proactive defense strategy. And most importantly, AI models can learn and be retrained constantly, further increasing their efficacy in IIoT cybersecurity. 

Supply Chain Security

Ensuring the security of components and devices throughout their supply chain lifecycle is a proactive measure to reduce vulnerabilities from the start. In particular, by scrutinizing every link in the supply chain, from component manufacturing to device assembly, organizations can reduce the risk of tampering or insertion of malicious components, enhancing the security and integrity of IIoT devices.

Network Segmentation

Network segmentation involves dividing an IIoT network into smaller, secluded networks, each with its own security policies. This allows organizations to contain security incidents within a smaller portion of the network, preventing widespread damage.

Wrapping Up

The promise of the IIoT is vast, but so are the risks. From insufficient encryption and a lack of device management to vulnerable hardware, supply chain risks, and the integration of legacy systems, the vulnerabilities in IIoT are diverse and complex. 

Securing these ecosystems is not just a matter of protecting data; it's about safeguarding critical infrastructure, ensuring product quality, maintaining operational integrity, and ensuring the safety of critical industrial processes. Fortunately, organizations can fortify their  IIoT networks and mitigate these risks with the innovative approaches we've covered above.

Isla Sibanda

Freelance Writer,

Technology Infrastructure & Operations Mobile & IoT Security

mobile security supply chain Advanced Persistent Threat exploit of vulnerability mobile applications operational technology (OT Security) mobile device security risk & vulnerability assessment ICS/OT Security artificial intelligence & machine learning network security network access control

Blogs posted to the website are intended for educational purposes only and do not replace independent professional judgment. Statements of fact and opinions expressed are those of the blog author individually and, unless expressly stated to the contrary, are not the opinion or position of RSA Conference™, or any other co-sponsors. RSA Conference does not endorse or approve, and assumes no responsibility for, the content, accuracy or completeness of the information presented in this blog.

Share With Your Community

Related Blogs