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Drop the IT-Centric Mindset: Securing IoT Networks Requires New Thinking


October 8, 2014 - 0 Comments

The Internet of Things (IoT) has become a popular topic of discussion amongst security company executives, analysts, and other industry pundits. But when they begin discussing the technical details, it quickly becomes evident that many of the most experienced security professionals still approach IoT with an IT-centric mindset. That’s because they believe IoT is mostly about the billions of new connected objects. While the dramatic increase in the number and types of connected objects certainly expands the attack surface and dramatically increases the diversity of threats, they’re only part of the IoT security challenge. In addition, the convergence of the organization’s existing IT network with the operational technology (OT) network (e.g., manufacturing floors, energy grids, transportation systems, and other industrial control systems) expands the depth of security challenges and makes threat remediation remarkably more complex.

While IT and OT were once separate networks, they’re now simply different environments within a single extended network ‒ but by no means are they the same! The architectures, operational needs, platforms, and protocols are vastly different for each of them, which drive radically different security needs for each of them. As a result, security architectures, solutions, and policies that have proven effective for years in the IT world often don’t apply in OT environments, so attempting to enforce consistent security policies across the extended network is doomed for failure.

Protecting data confidentiality is IT’s primary concern, so when faced with a threat, their immediate response is to quarantine or shut down the affected system. But OT runs critical, 24×7 processes, so data availability is their primary concern. Shutting down these processes can cost the organization millions of dollars, so the cost of remediation may be greater than simply dealing with the aftermath of an infection. In addition, because OT is a human-based operation in what can be dangerous working conditions, their focus is on the safety of their operation as well as their employees. As a result of these main differences, the two groups approach security in completely different ways. While IT uses a variety of cybersecurity controls to defend the network against attack and to protect data confidentiality, OT views security more in terms of secure physical access, as well as operational and personnel safety.

Securing IoT networks must go beyond today’s thinking. Rather than focusing on the individual security devices, they need to be networked, so that they can work together to produce comprehensive, actionable security intelligence.  By combining numerous systems, including cyber and physical security solutions, IoT-enabled security can improve employee safety and protect the entire system from the outside, as well as the inside. As a best practice, IT should maintain centralized management over the entire security solution, but with a high level of understanding of the specific needs of OT. Based on that understanding, they need to enforce differentiated security policies to meet those specific needs, and provide localized control over critical OT systems.

At the end of the day, IT and OT need to work together for the common good of the entire IoT implementation – thereby driving truly pervasive, customized security across the extended network.

Want to learn about the part Big Data plays in your overall security plan, and how Cisco can help organizations deliver the security they need to succeed in the IoT and IoE eras? Join us for a webcast at 9 AM Pacific time on October 21st entitled ‘Unlock Your Competitive Edge with Cisco Big Data and Analytics Solutions.’ #UnlockBigData



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