Effective monitoring & response for IoT/OT environments

By Sidsel Loyche - 10 Mar, 2023
Security Services

Effective monitoring & response for IoT/OT environments

The Internet of Things (IoT) / Operational Technology (OT) ecosystem has given modern society access to a world of possibilities and certain security risks. Unfortunately, the rapidly expanding connected world of smart devices represents a growing attack surface for adversaries of all kinds. IoT/OT devices are constantly monitoring and collecting sensitive data, and without the appropriate security controls, the probability of being exploited with malicious intent increases exponentially.

Very often, vulnerabilities in IoT/OT are leveraged to gain access and compromise critical systems. Therefore, robust, and effective monitoring and response capabilities are necessary to help mitigate security strengths, weaknesses, challenges, risks, and vulnerabilities presented by modern IoT/OT devices.

Why IoT/OT is so vulnerable

IoT/OT devices are particularly susceptible to attacks because these devices lack the necessary built-in security against always-evolving threats. Additionally, unique characteristics and technical aspects of IoT/OT also contribute to the devices’ vulnerabilities. Below are some of the causes these devices are vulnerable:

Diverse communication mechanisms: IoT/OT devices use various communication protocols, making it difficult to establish standard security practices to protect the traffic they generate.

Limited computational power and hardware restrictions: These devices have specific functions that warrant limited computational abilities, leaving little room for robust security mechanisms and data protection.

Expedited market adoption: Because of IoT/OT device popularity and benefits, these devices are rapidly released to the market without enough security R&D and testing, potentially exposing a variety of attack vectors.

Legacy system/machinery dependencies: Industries continue to depend on legacy systems that have reached their threshold for an upgrade. And therefore these hardly support modern security controls.

Human factor: Misconfigurations and a lack of awareness from administrators, users, and operators of these devices provide opportunities for adversaries looking for exposed devices to exploit their vulnerabilities.

Cybercriminals leverage IoT/OT device vulnerabilities to gain a foothold for their malicious activities, underscoring the importance of security from the design phase through deployment, including monitoring and response capabilities to provide visibility and help mitigate risk.

How to Improve IoT/OT Security

Safeguarding IoT/OT environments with the appropriate security tools enable organisations to achieve the necessary visibility, control, and behavioural analytics. However, since IoT/OT devices typically do not rely on traditional security mechanisms, the network these devices communicate with must be hardened to guarantee that cyber threats will not reach them. Therefore, security practitioners must implement the following measures to protect these devices with a holistic approach:

Visibility

In many cases, organisations are not aware of everything running on their networks and the risks those devices may represent. Furthermore, given the large variety of IoT devices, the reality is that not all devices will be easily discovered or classified. However, discovering any device connected to the IoT/OT networks and understanding its behaviour is critical to maintaining trust. In addition, defining the attack surface and effective profiling of active devices and traffic helps distinguish between managed and unmanaged devices’ communications. Therefore, network traffic visibility provides actionable intelligence to security teams, allowing them to dictate allowed traffic, ports, protocols, applications, and services.

Continuous Monitoring

Continuous monitoring of IoT/OT networks helps organisations learn how various devices behave by gathering data about known and unknown device activities. The most direct way to monitor the network is to inspect the network traffic itself. This can be accomplished by using software and hardware sensors that analyse traffic moving on networks and IoT/OT network segments to identify suspicious activity and unknown threats. Additionally, a central network monitoring tool helps log, report, and analyse, and evaluate activity collected across the system. IoT/OT security insights can be gained via user and device behaviour analysis, while real-time threat assessments ensure continuous protection. Finally, logs produced by IoT/OT devices and the events occurring in the networks where these devices live can be used to improve security and provide complete visibility into the enterprise environment and potential risks.

System Hardening

IoT/OT devices are vulnerable to physical attacks or online exploits, but they typically have limited resources like processor cycles, power, and memory to support their security. Therefore, proper security must also be unobtrusive not to disrupt authorised users or diminish the device’s overall efficiency and business value. Companies often struggle to keep their IoT/OT systems up to date because many device manufacturers rarely provide updated security patches. However, regular updates minimise the number of attack vectors in operating systems, firmware, and applications. Today, a pervasive vulnerability in IoT/OT systems stems from weak or unchanged default passwords. The immediate step to securing these systems is for administrators to set up new login policies that require users and administrators to change default device passwords. Additionally, to function correctly, any Internet-connected service requires opening specific ports. Thus, leaving open ports and services that provide access to devices or other machines is a typical security mistake. Instead, administrators must scan and close unneeded open ports and services across their networks.

Because of the ubiquity of IoT/OT computing, devices are usually not kept in a secure location but must be exposed in the field to perform their tasks. This could easily allow malicious actors to tamper with or access devices without surveillance. Therefore, physical security must be considered to ensure that the hardware is safe from tampering, physical access, manipulation, and sabotage.

Summary

IoT/OT offers businesses innovation, but the innovation comes at the price of mitigating and managing new security challenges, risks, and vulnerabilities. The main goal of IoT/OT security is to guarantee that devices are protected against possible cyber threats. This entails visibility into the IoT/OT systems connected to the organisation’s networks, so companies can assess their risk level and prioritise accordingly. It also requires comprehensive security solutions for IoT/OT device discovery and profiling, threat detection, and the ability to mitigate any risks with proper security controls. Precise monitoring and response capabilities allow organisations to assess and categorise IoT/OT devices within the network, their particular risk, and the sensitivity of the data these devices produce. A security operations team can expand its detection or prevention technologies to help decrease the number of security incidents and enhance the organisation’s response.

Finally, organisations need to know what happens when an IoT/OT device is compromised. The enterprise should prepare for worst-case scenarios and plan the strategies behind mitigating the threat through a comprehensive defence-in-depth approach and layered security. Companies may also place specific IoT devices on separate networks from their core IT networks to safeguard the data.

New Era Technology Can Help

New Era SecureBlu services can assist you with addressing a wide range of security challenges, including providing Managed Detection & Response (MDR) services for IoT/OT/SCADA infrastructure. If you are interested in learning more about how your organisation can prevent, detect, and maintain threats through New Era SecureBlu services, please visit our contact us.

Author: Sidsel Loyche

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