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Harnessing the Power of IoT Within Industry and Manufacturing

Photo: Courtesy of Spencer Davis

Wesley Simpson


These devices help streamline the operations of what are known as industrial control systems (ICS) that run our electrical power grids, factories, and much more. Investments in such interconnected sensors enable various industries that deal with thousands or even millions of complex pieces of machinery to automate, and use artificial intelligence and machine learning, letting human employees focus on more strategic tasks and initiatives.

Unfortunately, manufacturers don’t always take the necessary precautions to secure these products, which can create additional vulnerabilities. This oversight can make IoT devices vulnerable to remote exploitation over the web.

Attackers could then leverage compromised IoT products to disrupt the normal operation of industrial equipment. Depending on the function of those systems, such disruption could potentially endanger public safety, in addition to exposing plant operations, personally identifiable information, and intellectual property.

Strength in collaboration

For years, the people who have overseen computers and networks, and those who run ICS operations have been separate and independent teams with different goals, objectives, requirements, and reporting structures. That’s because, traditionally, information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) were considered to be two totally different things. There was limited collaboration and sharing of each other’s technologies, space, and employees in order to get the job done, since both entities thought they knew what was right.

These and other challenges have resulted in strong internal resistance against bringing these teams and infrastructures together. This is primarily due to these teams having fundamentally different approaches to addressing cyber risk. It’s for this reason that implementing security into ICS and manufacturing is fraught with challenges.

Who’s responsible?

Today, all of these technologies are converging but it is still difficult to determine who is responsible for protecting industrial control systems owned and operated by an organization, such as a manufacturing plant. Is it the IT team — which has experience and budget for digital security, but lacks direct oversight over the industrial control systems — or is it the OT team, which supervises industrial control systems, but isn’t usually responsible for defending and securing the organization against digital threats?

The absence of a clear strategy creates confusion and a wide attack vector.

This is where the cybersecurity team comes in. Once thought of as a subset of the network security department, cybersecurity is now stepping into a more strategic leadership position within industrial and manufacturing organizations to bridge the gap between IT and OT.

By deploying an integrated security framework that prioritizes critical functions, such as speed, collaboration, advanced analytics, and risk tolerance, the cybersecurity team is able to align appropriate IoT solutions across both IT and OT environments into a single, centralized, and automated security system where both teams unite to protect the organization.

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