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06:00 AM
Alan Zeichick
Alan Zeichick

Convergence: Real Problems When it Comes to Securing the IoT/IIoT

Today, enterprises are dealing with a proliferation of connected devices that probably aren't dedicated to computing - think video cameras, inventory sensors, machine tools, thermostats and environmental monitors.

The corporate network used to be comprised of a small number of large computational devices: servers, desktops, laptops, switches, routers. That's like, so 2010. Today, enterprises are dealing with a proliferation of connected devices that probably aren't dedicated to computing -- think video cameras, inventory sensors, machine tools, thermostats and environmental monitors.

What's the impact of those Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices on cybersecurity? That's a tough question, especially since those small, non-computational devices might not be well-integrated (or well-integratable) into traditional security platforms, and on the teams that manage operational technology (OT). In fact, in some cases those IoT/IIoT devices might appear to be black boxes, with little information available about firmware versions and updates, passwords and vendor back-doors, data encryption, penetration testing -- the sorts of information that the IT and infosec staff would generally require for computation devices.

Yet there they are, those IoT and IIoT devices, sitting on the enterprise's wired or Wi-Fi network, talking to internal servers, talking to external clouds and providers, sending telemetry, receiving instructions from... well... who knows, really?

Anish Srivastava has given a lot of thought to questions of IoT/IIoT security, and how those devices converge with traditional IT teams and operational technology. A veteran of organizations like IBM's Security Service Business and Tata Consulting Services, Srivastava is president and CEO of TUV Rheinland OpenSky, which offers an advanced, integrated portfolio of security solutions and services for IoT devices and platforms.

TUV Rheinland OpenSky recently partnered with Ponemon Institute to study safety, security and privacy in the interconnect world of IT, IIoT and OT. Srivastava's interpretation of the results: There are real problems when it comes to securing the IoT/IIoT, and those problems often start at the top of the organization.

"Turf and silo issues are the biggest barrier to convergence," says Srivastava. "Those make it difficult for organizations with a long history of strong silos and turf issues."

Srivastava recommends the creation of a cross-functional team to manage cyber risk across IT and OT systems. "Furthermore, involvement and support from the CIO and C-suite is essential to ensuring adequate resources are available for the convergence process, especially for in-house expertise," he adds.

He points out -- and nobody should be surprised -- that a weak security posture is the biggest risk during the convergence process. "As a result, organizations need to establish strict safeguards to secure information assets and the IT and OT infrastructure. They should also consider investing in technologies that improve visibility of people and business processes."

Another key takeaway is that the organization needs a clear strategy for managing the proliferation of IoT and IIoT systems. "Such a strategy should include monitoring the risk of these devices in the workplace," explains Srivastava.

And although it can be difficult with the IoT/IIoT, the organization, needs to conduct regular assessment to understand the vulnerabilities and risk in the organization's functional safety, cybersecurity and privacy program. "Conduct regular reviews of third-party management policies and programs to ensure they address the ever-changing landscape of third-party risks," Srivastava advises.

That said, Srivastava reiterates that the biggest challenges are those conflicts and lack of ownership created by turf and silo issues. "Those are significant organizational barriers to successful convergence," he says.

What does convergence mean in this context? It's the consolidation and integration of cybersecurity, functional safety and data privacy functions. Convergence includes the integration of IT and OT control systems.

"In the context of our research with Ponemon," says Srivastava, "functional safety is defined as the part of a system or piece of equipment's overall safety that depends on automatic protection operating correctly in response to its inputs or failure in a predictable manner, like with a failsafe."

Srivastava continues, "The automatic protection system should be designed to properly handle likely human errors, hardware failures, operational/environmental stress and cybersecurity issues. Safety instrumented systems (SIS) are the last line of automated defense for industrial facilities. If these aren't working, the risk of catastrophic incidents, such as fires and explosions, increase dramatically."

Digitalization is driving IT and OT convergence with IoT/IIoT, Srivastava explains. "Leaders recognize that effective convergence leading to consolidation and integration across IT and OT control systems decreases IT/ OT risk."

Looking at the study, 61% of respondents says it's a challenge to control the proliferation of IoT and IIoT devices. However, those devices are critical for business success. So, given these devices are going to proliferate, and in fact must proliferate, what should IT and OT staff do about it?

"The creation of a cross-functional team to manage cyber risk across IT and OT systems will help eliminate the #1 barrier," says Srivastava, which he defines as those turf and silo issues across the IT and OT world. "Furthermore, early involvement and support from the CIO and C-suite is essential to ensuring adequate resources are available for the convergence process, especially for in-house expertise," he says.

Srivastava ended by expanding on in-house expertise -- or the lack thereof. It's clear that organizations may never be able to hire enough, train enough, pay enough and retain enough security staff. How can you maintain a secure posture without ever having sufficient staffing or funding?

It won't be easy. "The skills shortage in this area will continue to haunt us," says Srivastava. "A pragmatic approach with focus on quantifying the risk, prioritizing high ticket items, tools and automation in the form of on-going monitoring, and following the best practices around patching, regular risk assessments would help provide visibility and help improve the overall posture with limited resources."

To answer the question at the beginning: The cybersecurity impact of IoT/IIoT will depend not on the security of the devices in question, but on internal and organizational factors, handling turf wars, tearing down silos and creating cross-functional teams. It's a daunting challenge, but an important one to solve.

Alan Zeichick is principal analyst at Camden Associates, a technology consultancy in Phoenix, Ariz., specializing in enterprise networking, cybersecurity and software development. Follow him @zeichick.

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