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HAVEX Proves (Again) that the Airgap is a Myth: Time for Real Cybersecurity in ICS Environments

July 3, 2014 at 7:00 am PST

The HAVEX worm is making the rounds again. As Cisco first reported back in September 2013, HAVEX specifically targets supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), industrial control system (ICS), and other operational technology (OT) environments. In the case of HAVEX, the energy industry, and specifically power plants based in Europe, seems to be the primary target. See Cisco’s security blog post for technical details on this latest variant.

When I discuss security with those managing SCADA, ICS and other OT environments, I almost always get the feedback that cybersecurity isn’t required, because their systems are physically separated from the open Internet. This practice, referred to in ICS circles as the “airgap”, is the way ICS networks have been protected since the beginning of time; and truth be told, it’s been tremendously effective for decades. The problem is, the reality of the airgap began to disappear several years ago, and today is really just a myth.

Today, networks of all types are more connected than ever before. Gone are the days where only information technology (IT) networks are connected, completely separated from OT networks.  OT networks are no longer islands unto themselves, cut off from the outside world. Technology trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT) have changed all of that. To gain business efficiencies and streamline operations, today’s manufacturing plants, field area networks, and other OT environments are connected to the outside world via wired and wireless communications – in multiple places throughout the system! As a result, these industrial environments are every bit as open to hackers and other cyber threats as their IT counterparts. The main difference, of course, is that most organizations have relatively weak cybersecurity controls in these environments because of the continued belief that an airgap segregates them from the outside world, thereby insulating them from cyber attacks. This naivety makes OT environments an easier target.

The authors of HAVEX certainly understand that OT environments are connected, since the method of transmission is via a downloadable Trojan installed on the websites of several ICS/SCADA manufacturers. What’s considered a very old trick in the IT world is still relatively new to those in OT.

It’s absolutely essential that organizations with ICS environments fully understand and embrace the fact that IT and OT are simply different environments within a single extended network. As such, cybersecurity needs to be implemented across both to produce a comprehensive security solution for the entire extended network. The most important way to securely embrace IoT is for IT and OT to work together as a team. By each relinquishing just a bit of control, IT can retain centralized control over the extended network – but with differentiated policies that recognize the specialized needs of OT environments.

We’ll never completely bulletproof our systems, but with comprehensive security solutions applied across the extended network that provide protection before, during, and after an attack, organizations can protect themselves from most of what’s out there. A significant step in the right direction is to understand that the airgap is gone forever; it’s time to protect our OT environments every bit as much as we protect our IT environments.

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Technology Behind the Surface

What do Walt Disney World, The Matrix, and Big Ben have in common?  On the surface they do not share much.  Each of these is special because everything that makes them tick, pun intended, are hidden from view of the consumers.  We all intuitively know there is a great deal of complexity behind the scenes, but it is intentionally hidden from the users.  This is the behavior consumers of cloud-based services also expect, even in the datacenter.

Today vendors are working hard to make their products and services more consumable in a nearly seamless fashion.  They are accomplishing this by adding abstract control layers, open APIs with robust development kits, and enabling cross platform integrations.  The recognition is that in today’s virtualized datacenter and the Internet of everything no technology is an island any longer.  Efforts have to be made to make interoperability a priority in order to provide the polished experience that consumers have grown to expect.  The question being answered is ‘Why doesn’t X communicate with Y?’ Read More »

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Critical Infrastructure: How Smart Cities Will Transform Latin America

Although Latin America is a developing region, the area is making strides towards becoming more efficient, cleaner and more innovative—characteristics of smart cities and the Internet of Everything (IoE) are making it possible. Many people now beg the question, “Are smart cities real?” Wim Elfrink answers the question with a firm yes, referring to smart cities as tangible and necessary to foster economic and developmental growth.

With more and more people flocking to urban areas, cities that don’t embrace the digital economy will lag behind. Leading cities are reinventing themselves with real-time, networked applications to improve everything from traffic flow and parking to water usage and city-wide energy consumption. In some, passersby can instantly find nearby restaurants, shopping deals, mass transit and more at their fingertips through connected mobile devices.


Internet of Everything Enabling Connected Cities
Recently, Cisco partnered with AGT to develop an upcoming Internet of Things-enabled traffic management system that Read More »

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Cisco Announces Acquisition of Assemblage

Collaboration technology gives us the ability to work together anywhere, on any device, at any time. With more and more people using smartphones and tablets to do their work, it is more important than ever that enterprise collaboration delivers high quality voice, video, chat and online sharing instantly, to any device on any platform.

Today, I am pleased to announce Cisco’s acquisition of Assemblage to help us capture the ongoing market transitions of mobility, cloud and the Internet of Everything (IoE). Assemblage has built a talented team of web developers to deliver the tools and the infrastructure to enable simple, real-time collaboration through the browser to any device, without the need for downloads, plugins, or installations.

Assemblage offers real-time collaboration apps for shared whiteboarding, presentation broadcasting and screensharing. Users are able to collaborate simply via their browser with one-click, instantly accessing collaboration apps delivered via the cloud. Assemblage’s technology also integrates with popular third party cloud services and supports 40 different file types to enable quick and efficient collaboration.

With this acquisition, Assemblage brings a strong team of engineers with deep web development expertise to Cisco’s Collaboration Technology Group (CTG), enabling Cisco to accelerate innovation and develop simple, easy to use, next generation collaboration solutions. In addition, Assemblage’s experience integrating with third party cloud ecosystem applications like Box and Google shows a close alignment to Cisco’s collaboration strategy and our commitment to simplicity and interoperability.

We are excited to welcome Assemblage to our collaboration team. Together, Cisco and Assemblage will provide simple, easy-to-use solutions that help employees work smarter together from virtually anywhere.

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#InnovateThink Tweet Chat on Friday, June 27 at 10 a.m. PST: Exploring the #FutureOfMobility

Innovations in mobility have made it possible for us all to connect from pretty much anywhere in the world, turning wherever we are in to our office. And mobile connections show no signs of slowing. By the end of 2014, the number of mobile-connected devices will exceed the number of people on Earth!

As with any technology, mobility is constantly changing, having to meet the demands of an increasingly mobile workforce that desires to conduct “business as usual” from anywhere.  And while companies have realized the importance of investing in mobility solutions, critical questions remain that must be answered for them to determine what needs to happen next to remain competitive and maximize their mobility efforts:

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  • How has mobility changed your business?
  • What do you need to impact your future business initiatives?
  • How is mobility influencing behavior among workers and customers?
  • What’s got you excited for the future of mobility in your organization?

Join me on Twitter this Friday, June 27 at 10 a. m. PST/1 p.m. EST for an exciting and insightful hour about the #FutureOfMobility in the #InnovateThink  Tweet Chat. Join me @RachaelMcB and @CiscoIoE alongside @ron_miller to learn more about how mobility has transformed the business landscape and why companies must continue to keep pace with the possibilities it creates. Simply use the hashtags #InnovateThink and #FutureOfMobility on Twitter to join the conversation.

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