Manufacturers continue to deploy increasingly sophisticated processing and data collection devices into their production environments. This real-time data collection boom, often referred to as Industry 4.0, is characterized by seamless connectivity, automation, and data exchange. While these advanced capabilities have allowed manufacturers to improve productivity, reduce downtime, and identify inefficiencies in their day-to-day operations, they’ve also created an urgent need for more comprehensive network security.

As a general rule of thumb, an organization’s data and critical assets are only as secure as the networks and systems where they’re processed and stored. If cybercriminals can overcome a network’s perimeter, they can usually gain access to sensitive information, launch large-scale ransomware attacks, and even exfiltrate (copy) your data onto their systems for leveraged extortion. What makes these threats difficult to manage is that evolving hacking methods along with exploitable software and hardware vulnerabilities crop up on a regular basis. Considering cybercrime is $1.5 trillion industry, according to research from Bromium and RSA, it’s unlikely malicious actors will slow down their activities any time soon.

To stay adaptive in the long term, manufacturers have to reassess the effectiveness of their network security and cyberattack prevention systems. Over the past few years, IT security experts have started moving away from design models built on a network perimeter security model. This shift is, in part, the result of changing user behaviors and the widespread use of mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. According to Gartner, worldwide IoT spending is expected to surpass the $1 trillion mark in 2022. That is a significant number of new attacker vectors to secure; before we dive into current trends in cybersecurity, it may be useful to quickly recap what a network perimeter actually entails.

Breaking Down Network Security

Network Security refers to “any activity designed to protect the usability and integrity of networks and data,” according to the technology firm Cisco. In most cases, manufacturers deploy a host of overlapping hardware and software technologies that allow them to insulate their critical infrastructure from a range of cyber threats, including malware, ransomware, man-in-the-middle attacks, and more. Traditionally, these and other digital threats were often stopped at a network’s perimeter, the outermost boundary separating private and local networks from the Internet. The general principle is quite straightforward: by blocking potentially harmful internet traffic from accessing a private network, companies can reduce their risk exposure and prevent cybercriminals from establishing a foothold inside their computer systems.

The three major elements of network security include:

  • Confidentiality – Only authorized individuals can access data.
  • Integrity – Data is not changed unless it is supposed to be.
  • Availability – Data is available when needed.

There are often a variety of security tools and management processes active at a network’s perimeter, many of which are responsible for authenticating whether a user has the proper authorization. Before personal devices made their way into modern workplaces, many organizations simply barred all external traffic from connecting to their internal systems. In terms of specific hardware and software technologies, there are several methods used to protect the usability and integrity of data used in multiple layers of network security:

  • Border routers: These basic networking hubs are responsible for directing the traffic that flows in and out of a company’s private servers. Border routers often sit at the outermost boundary of an organization’s network and serves as a buffer between internal systems and the open Internet.
  • Firewalls: Working alongside border routers, these security systems actively filter internal and external traffic based on a set of predefined rules. Firewalls either allow or deny connection requests from outside the network and help to block potentially harmful malware, malicious code and more.
  • Intrusion detection systems: When suspicious network activity is identified, this security tool will send out alerts to the appropriate IT team. After making a determination, network administrators can act upon the alerts to further insulate their systems from external exploitation.
  • Intrusion prevention systems: These types of network perimeter security applications automate the incident response process, removing the need for direct human intervention. When suspicious traffic or possible threats are detected, the system will automatically defend the network.
  • Security information and event management (SIEM): SIEM software gives security professionals both insight into and the ability to track records of the activities within the manufacturing IT environment. It combines:
    • security event management, which analyzes log and event data in real time to provide threat monitoring
    • event correlation and incident response
    • security information management, which collects, analyzes and reports on log data

There are several other elements vital to comprehensive network perimeter security, such as access controls, factor authentication, email filtering, and web protection. These features are typically managed through a centralized network security platform, though every organization has its own unique IT governance policies.

The shift from network perimeter security toward endpoint protection is already well underway.The shift from network perimeter security toward endpoint protection is already well underway.

The Future of Network Security: From Borders to Borderless

Network perimeter security still plays a crucial role in protecting manufacturers from cybercrime. For one, most of the access and traffic management systems are still crucial for authenticating external users as they connect to the network and blocking potentially malicious activities. Recent trends in mobile phone use, cloud computing, remote work, and IoT integration have forced companies to pay closer attention to threats that originate from inside their private networks, CSO reported. Now that employees are increasingly connecting to enterprise networks from their personal devices, endpoint security has become a key concern.

“In the U.S., digital transformation efforts are having a significant impact on security. As organizations evolve their businesses with new technologies such as AI and IoT, they must evolve their security strategy as well.” said Jessica Goepfert, program vice president of IDC Customer Insights & Analysis.

Every device connected to a private network represents a possible entry point for cybercriminals, whether they are located on or off site. For manufacturers, this means that every IoT sensor, work laptop, and smartphone could end up delivering harmful malware or acting as a gateway to sensitive proprietary data. This new frontier of network security has necessitated strong authentication protocols, clearly defined trust boundaries, and reliable real-time monitoring tools. The high demand for network and endpoint security solutions has led to a surge of “next-generation firewalls” that possess added features, such as cloud-delivered threat intelligence, application control, and two-factor authentication. Gartner states, “By 2022, application integrations delivered with robotic process automation (RPA) will grow by 40% year over year.

Rather than relying on security tools located at the boundaries, manufacturers are now moving toward multifaceted network architectures that utilize a layered security model. Fundamental security follows logic and precautions:

  • Isolation: Bring your own device (BYOD) concerns, such as preventing private, personal use devices from connecting to the corporate network. Should you allow the direct injection of spyware, malware and ransomware into your business systems?
  • Patch management: Keeping firmware, operating systems, locally installed software and web applications up to date is one of the best ways to prevent cybercriminals from capitalizing on known exploits. Unpatched devices and computer programs pose a major threat to private networks, including IoT equipment, cloud-storage applications and more.
  • Lengthy user credentials: Upholding best practices in authenticating is essential to protecting sensitive data stores, web services, and network configurations. Weak, short, and reused passwords facilitate breaches. Today’s cybercriminals have developed sophisticated techniques for cracking usernames and passwords, which is why users should change their login details every 6 months and incorporate dissimilar word passphrases with extended 15 or more charter length. Lengthy passphrases with moderate complexity will be more secure than short complex passwords.
    • NIST now recommends: “Require everyone to use longer passwords or passphrases of 15 or more characters without requiring uppercase, lowercase, or special characters.”
    • The FBI now recommends requiring a password change only when the use case requires a change. They discovered, after extensive research, passwords with 90 days or shorter lifecycles present more risk as users find ways to keep track of new passwords.
  • Virtual private networks: These security tools allow users to establish a secure connection with private networks over the public internet. VPNs can ensure remote workers have appropriate access without opening the network up to unauthorized traffic. Be careful! Allowing a personal home system that is not managed by corporate policy can allow malware and ransomware to spread from a home PC into your business network.
  • DNS filtering: When emails are delivered to users’ mailboxes, block the redirect attempts by filtering DNS requests and reduce the successful execution of this malicious activity.
  • User access monitoring: Keeping a close eye on user access privileges and network activity can help protect critical data and applications from cybercriminals. Know what access team members require to perform their job functions, and restrict access to only those systems and applications. When suspicious traffic or user behavior is identified, IT admins can more quickly suspend access privileges while they investigate the incident.
  • User awareness training: Security awareness training is an ongoing education process that teaches employees about a how to identify and report possible security threats. This typically includes phishing and other social engineering attacks, identifying malware behaviors, and better understanding IT policies and procedures.

According to the World Economic Forum, cyberattacks are perceived as the #2 global risk of concern to business leaders in advanced economies, second only to fiscal crises. To truly secure their data and critical infrastructure from existing and emergent cyberthreats, manufacturers should determine whether their current network architecture will support their mission strategies. According to a Cisco Cybersecurity Report 2020, 89% of respondents said their executive leadership still considers security a high priority. The shift toward borderless network security is already well underway, which is why Certitude Security™ is dedicated to helping manufacturers develop stronger, more reliable cybersecurity practices. To be uninformed, is to be at the mercy of others. To learn more, visit the Certitude Security™ website or schedule a conversation with a team member who is understanding and not judgmental.