What are IIoT devices, and how can you deploy them securely?

January 30, 20194 minute read

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It’s official: In today’s world, you can order breakfast, call in sick to work, and rent a movie still in theaters without exercising anything more than your vocal chords. Just ask one of your virtual assistants.

Ordering a large cheese pizza from an invisible digital assistant may seem like the pinnacle of IoT, but it still has a few more tricks up its sleeve. IIoT devices are one of them.

First things first: What is IIoT?

What is IIoT—or the Industrial Internet of Things? Simply put, it’s the application of IoT in an industrial setting to enhance production processes. Here are a few examples you may find floating around a factory near you:

  • Augmented reality apps in tablets and smart glasses allow users to assess and improve production floor tasks automatically.
  • Embedded devices can track and monitor fleet metrics to achieve greater route efficiency.
  • Smart sensors on heavy machinery can provide greater maintenance visibility and even predict future failures.

IIoT devices can take just about any form you can imagine in the industrial process. If it’s industrial and connected to a network of similar devices, it’s probably IIoT.

Make sure you implement IIoT devices the right way

With enough of these connected sensors and devices, IIoT takes productivity and efficiency to the next level. We’re talking fully automated, smart factories. No—it’s not a pipe dream. In fact, Forbes recently detailed how IIoT is already ushering in the next industrial revolution.

That said, a smart factory isn’t necessarily a secure factory. How can you implement the right security protocols to mitigate IIoT security risks?

First up, know the threats facing your devices. Recent research from Gartner suggests that more than 25 percent of cyber attacks will involve IoT by 2020. Yes, that includes IIoT. Here’s what those attacks will likely consist of:

  • Man-in-the-middle attacks intercepting data
  • Denial-of-service attacks looking to disrupt industrial processes
  • Malware that hijacks and compromises a device’s functionality

Aim to mitigate any and all threats

In reality, IIoT threats aren’t really that different from any other connected device. The bad guys are ultimately after the same things. With that in mind, let’s talk about securing your IIoT deployments from these attacks.

Now that you know what potential attacks may look like, you need to identify the most likely threat vectors in your IT environment:

  • What’s the most likely source? (Remote, local, etc.)
  • What’s the most likely target? (Data, hardware, service disruption, etc.)
  • What’s the most likely vehicle? (Third-party malware, brute force, social engineering, etc.)

Asking these questions will help you formulate a useful picture of what IIoT security risks look like for your deployment.

Outline a secure implementation strategy

The next step is to define what a secure implementation looks like. Ideally, you should base this on your findings from the previous questions. For example, let’s say you’re putting in a fancy set of edge devices to track factory temperature and adjust accordingly. In that case, remote access, outdated firmware, and proximity to critical infrastructure are probably your main concerns.

Or maybe you’re looking to the future with a fleet of connected 3D printers to speed up the prototyping process. You’ll want to be sure proprietary data doesn’t linger on printers or fall into the wrong hands during transit.

In a nutshell, mitigating IIoT security risks can typically be accomplished by plugging vulnerabilities and increasing visibility. In the first example, this might look like segregating networks. After all, your new thermostats probably don’t need access to accounting databases.

Continuing with the 3D printing example, encrypting data in transit and at rest would be a great way to shore up potential vulnerabilities. When it comes to increasing visibility, centralization is a good place to start. Services that make it effortless to view the heartbeat of your IIoT army should be a high priority. Don’t forget to take a look at solutions that let you do more with less by automating routine security tasks—automated device configuration and threat detection can go a long way toward putting your mind and workload at ease.

IIoT has the potential to change the manufacturing industry as you know it. It also has an equal and opposite potential to compromise the integrity of your IT environment. With a little foresight, however, you can tap into all that IIoT devices have to offer—without the risk.

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