Security concerns around the rapidly growing use of the Industrial Internet of Things

Get a copy of the upcoming book "Secure Operations Technology"

Organisations hold disparate and unrealistic views on protecting the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), in which endpoints are considered to be the most vulnerable aspects, despite confusion over what actually constitutes an endpoint.

protecting IIoT

These are the key findings of the 2018 SANS Industrial IoT Security Survey report, which examines the security concerns around the rapidly growing use of IIoT. IIoT is the subset of the Internet of Things that focuses specifically on the industrial application of connected physical devices within critical infrastructure such as electricity, manufacturing, oil and gas, transportation and healthcare. The installed base of IoT devices is forecast to triple from 23.14bn in 2018 to 75.44bn in 2025.

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,” he adds.

“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.”

protecting IIoT

Other concerns around IIoT security include:

  • 32% of IIoT devices connect directly to the internet, bypassing traditional IT security layers
  • Almost 40% said identifying, tracking and managing devices represented a significant security challenge
  • Only 40% reported applying and maintaining patches and updates to protect their IIoT devices and systems
  • 56% cited difficulty in patching as one of the greatest security challenges.

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.”