Protecting against cyber threats when implementing IIoT

28th June 2021
Alex Lynn

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is one of the most valuable technologies at electronics manufacturers’ disposal. While the IIoT can bring tremendous benefits to companies, some roadblocks remain. Most notably, 44% of enterprise IoT customers said security was among their top three challenges in deploying these technologies.

At this point, the benefits of the IIoT are well-known. It increases operational visibility, can gather helpful data points, and can minimise facilities’ energy usage. Since the demand for electronics is rising and 61% of energy in America goes to waste, these benefits are hard to ignore.

If IIoT devices jeopardise manufacturers’ security, though, those benefits lose their value. Comprehensive security is a prerequisite for effective IIoT implementation. With that in mind, here are five ways electronics manufacturers can secure their IIoT deployments.

1. Use devices with built-in security

One of the most significant vulnerabilities of IIoT devices is that many come without built-in security measures. Consequently, one of the best ways to protect these deployments is to shop for options that do. Manufacturers should communicate with IoT vendors to find solutions that fit their security needs.

Some of the most crucial features to look for include data encryption and automatic diagnostics. Devices with authentication methods beyond a simple username and password are also ideal. When manufacturers can get an IIoT solution with features like this from the start, it streamlines the rest of the protection process.

2. Segment networks

The world creates 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day, and much of it is just as valuable to hackers as it is to businesses. Cybercriminals frequently use IoT devices as a gateway to more critical company systems to access this data. This is one of the IIoT’s leading security problems, but network segmentation can mitigate it.

Segmenting networks so IIoT devices can only access the data they need minimises the risks they pose. Manufacturers can also go a step further and host these gadgets on an entirely separate network from critical assets. That way, if a hacker infiltrates an IoT device, they can’t breach the more sensitive parts of a facility’s systems.

3. Enable automatic scans and updates

When running a large fleet of IIoT devices, remembering to update each one’s firmware can be challenging. A 2020 study found that IoT-enabled industrial controllers’ firmware is more than 13 months old on average. If companies are going this long without updating their devices, they likely feature easy-to-fix vulnerabilities hackers could exploit.

Manually updating every device is too inefficient and unreliable. Enabling automatic updates solves this problem. Similarly, manufacturers should look for devices with automatic scanning to stay on top of any irregularities that emerge.

4. Monitor devices in real-time

Many companies embrace IIoT devices because they enable real-time monitoring. Applying the same practice to IIoT deployments themselves can improve their security. Given how prevalent IoT cyberattacks are, facilities should monitor them to react to any breaches quickly.

Not every manufacturer has the budget to create a dedicated center to monitor network activity. With today’s security tools and services, they don’t have to. Outsourced network monitoring or AI technology can watch IIoT systems to ensure everything is working as it should.

5. Adopt better passsowrd practices

Password management is one of the most common cybersecurity shortcomings across all industries and applications. According to a Verizon report, 37% of all data breaches in 2020 involved stolen credentials. Thankfully, the solution to this problem is relatively straightforward.

Manufacturers should always change IoT devices’ passwords from the factory defaults to something unique. Similarly, they shouldn’t reuse passwords. This gets increasingly challenging with more IIoT deployments, so some manufacturers may need to use password managers to ensure they use strong and varied passwords across all devices.

The IIoT doesn’t have to be a security risk

If left unsecured, the IIoT can present significant risks to electronics manufacturers. In contrast, if manufacturers take the proper precautions, they can experience all of the IIoT’s benefits without worry.

These five steps can mitigate many of the most common and threatening IIoT security risks. With these protections, manufacturers can freely and securely embrace the IIoT.

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