Organisations underestimating, unclear on IIoT security challenges

SANS Institute study shows organisations not sure over endpoint security and other IIoT issues

Securing the IIoT is more complex than many leaders understand.
Securing the IIoT is more complex than many leaders understand.

Many organisations deploying Industrial Internet of Things solutions have an unrealistic or unclear understanding of their cybersecurity, according to a report from the SANS Institute.

Organisations are failing to adequately define and protect ‘endpoints' in IIoT networks, and there is a also a degree of over-confidence from managers in the entity's ability to protect its network.

The 2018 SANS Industrial IoT Security Survey report shows that despite most organisations identifying endpoints as the most vulnerable aspect of their networks, there is confusion over what actually constitutes an endpoint, potentially leaving endpoint's unprotected.


The study uncovered a number of other concerns around IIoT security, including 32% of IIoT devices connect directly to the internet, bypassing traditional IT security layers; identifying, tracking and managing devices represented a significant security challenge to nearly 40% of respondents; only 40% reported applying and maintaining patches and updates to protect their IIoT devices and systems; and 56% cited difficulty in patching as one of the greatest security challenges.

"The industrial and manufacturing organisations in the Middle East are aligned with the global trend of leveraging IIoT to drive innovation in areas such as data analytics, process optimization, automation, and artificial intelligence. What's more, because they are not hindered by legacy IT infrastructures, they have a greater ability to innovate at a faster pace. What organisations must not fail to do is to understand and evaluate the security implications of IIoT, as the effects of poor IIoT security could be far reaching," explained Ned Baltagi, Managing Director, Middle East & Africa at SANS.

The SANS report found that most organisations globally are forecasting 10 to 25% growth in their connected devices. This growth rate will cause the systems connected to IIoT devices to double in size roughly every three to seven years. This will ultimately result in increased network complexity as IT and OT become more connected, more demand for bandwidth, and the need for personnel skilled in best security practices related to the design, build and operation of IIoT systems.

Of over 200 respondents surveyed, more than half reported the most vulnerable aspects of their IIoT infrastructure as data, firmware, embedded systems, or general endpoints. At the same time, however, the survey reveals an ongoing debate over the definition of an endpoint.

According to Doug Wylie, Director of the Industrials & Infrastructure Business Portfolio at SANS Institute: "The discrepancy in defining IIoT endpoints is the basis for some of the confusion surrounding responsibility for IIoT security. Many practitioners likely are not adequately identifying and managing the numerous assets that in some way connect to networks - and present a danger to their organisations.

"For this reason, it is important for company IT and OT groups to agree to a common definition to help ensure they adequately identify security risks as they evolve their systems to adapt to new architectural models."

The survey also uncovered a wide gap between the perceptions of IIoT security by OT, IT and management, with only 64% of OT departments claiming to be confident in their ability to secure IIoT infrastructure, compared to 83% of IT departments and 93% of business leaders.

"The report highlights a real disparity across organisations in the level of confidence as to how secure the IIoT really is," said Barbara Filkins, SANS Analyst Programme Research Director and survey report author.

"This disparity represents the need for a major cultural change in how industrial organisations must approach the security risks in a world of IIoT."

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