Industrial Control Cyber Security Best Practices

Industrial Control Cyber Security Best Practices

Industrial control systems (ICSs) are crucial tools used to oversee complex production processes that must run without unscheduled downtime, yet are highly vulnerable to cyber attacks that aim at exfiltrating data, stealing intellectual property or disrupting operations.

Implementing an ICS cybersecurity program doesn’t need to be daunting, however.

1. Invest in a Secure Network

Industrial Control Systems (ICSs) refer to hardware and software used for infrastructure-support functions like power, water, transportation, manufacturing and more. As these systems become increasingly connected to the Internet for management and monitoring purposes, new threats and vulnerabilities must be considered when developing an ICS security framework.

At the same time, it is equally essential to secure the OT environment with equal priority as IT systems, by employing an IAM strategy tailored specifically to deal with threats specific to OT environments.

Effective ways of meeting this challenge include developing and communicating an OT security policy that aligns with corporate policies. Such policies should clearly delineate responsibilities, roles, and consequences for team members as well as topics like portable media use, remote access and antivirus usage.

Training employees on the importance of security can help dissuade unauthorized users from disabling or bypassing protective measures. A culture of security must also be fostered within an OT structure so employees understand why protections exist and support them accordingly.

Non-technical measures to decrease the chances of an insider attack include creating a positive company culture, rewarding employees for success, and caring for their wellbeing. This helps defuse frustrations that could cause employees to turn against the company through communication, education, or training programs. Technology solutions available from companies like Check Point can be installed onto networks containing industrial control system (ICS) and SCADA devices to monitor traffic between them and alert administrators as soon as a threat has been detected.

2. Implement Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

MFA is one of the most effective means of protecting industrial systems against unauthorised access. By adding another layer of security with multiple authentication factors for login, it allows greater trust that the person logging in is who they say they are and harder for bad actors to gain entry to accounts even if their password gets leaked through an insecure email or through phishing attacks.

MFA can be configured to work in tandem with Single Sign-On (SSO), so users only need to go through one identity verification step to gain access to all applications connected with that account. MFA may also be implemented as part of zero-trust security, making sure only authorized users access specific applications on the network. Finally, MFA provides additional layers of defense against attacks that threaten mission-critical data in industrial systems.

Combining MFA, SSO and zero-trust is an effective and robust strategy for protecting industrial systems against unauthorised access. Employee education on your security tactics will further mitigate any attacks against their industrial networks.

Additionally, it’s essential that manufacturers who prioritize security can deliver solutions tailored to your unique requirements. Look for industrial control system (ICS)-specific mitigation devices which can protect critical infrastructure from known vulnerabilities quickly after discovery, without shutting down operations for patch application – helping reduce risks from both within the organization as well as external attacks, and ensure business continuity by successfully stopping attacks from outside your boundaries.

3. Secure Remote Access Connections

Cyber attacks against industrial control systems (ICSs) and networks they rely on may come from disgruntled employees, hostile nations, terrorist organizations or even individuals looking to steal data. Such cyber attacks can result in lost productivity, reputational damage, financial losses or even physical harm; for this reason ICS security best practices focus on rigorous protection measures.

One of the key aspects of protecting ICS systems is protecting its remote access connections. While requiring users to login using multi-factor authentication through secure channels is ideal, keeping track of who has access can prove challenging as administrators must monitor user activity real time to maintain access only for authenticated users.

Solution: Utilize a zero trust model where only trusted devices are permitted access to your OT network. However, this isn’t always feasible: third-party contractors often run expensive client software on their machines in order to program field controllers; when this happens directly connecting into ICS is often necessary in these instances; SANS Institute strongly suggests against doing this whenever possible.

To avoid this scenario, the ideal approach would be requiring all users to utilize a secure VPN and only authenticate using credentials provided by IT administrators. If this is not feasible, consider creating a DMZ and employing multi-factor authentication in combination with a dedicated jump server to allow access from outside. This ensures only authorized communications reach ICS systems while users only gain access to relevant systems relevant to their line of work.

4. Encryption

ICS (industrial control systems) networks monitor and control industrial processes. ICSs play an integral part of energy and utilities services, transportation networks, healthcare delivery, manufacturing operations, food manufacturing facilities, water utilities and many other essential services. These systems may be fully automated or partially managed to ensure safety and reliability.

Cyberattackers have increasingly attacked these systems to steal information, gain financial advantage or cause damage; such as by shutting down production lines and disrupting supply chains. Threats come from disgruntled employees, foreign governments, terrorist groups and anyone with malicious intentions.

Security breaches often begin through a combination of social engineering and hacker techniques, including phishing campaigns to trick employees into opening gateways and running scripts unwittingly, as well as inadequate training on ICS security policies and procedures; combined with limited IT security resources available to them this places the OT network at high risk for attack.

For maximum protection of an OT system, multifactor authentication should be employed when accessing remote servers and transmitting data between hosts and clients. All communications from and to hosts should also be encrypted to avoid unauthorised access. Likewise, using a secure configuration management system provides another great method for overseeing devices and systems within an ICS network.

To provide optimal protection for your ICS, it is crucial that a robust patching schedule be put into effect. All devices should be updated to the most recent firmware versions whenever possible and a secure, private network should be created for them, regularly being scanned for potential vulnerabilities like unauthorised IP addresses. Finally, these ICS networks must be kept apart from both DMZs and plant networks so as to maximize isolation.

5. Patch Your Devices

Protecting industrial control system (ICS) equipment against hackers who seek to exploit and manipulate them for their own malicious ends should be top of mind for both OT teams and business IT departments. Therefore, patching devices connected to the Internet should be prioritized.

No matter where patches come from – downloaded from the internet, developed internally by system administrators or software developers, or distributed using removable media – they must first be thoroughly tested prior to being deployed into production environments. It should also be common practice to keep a backup of known secure configurations for devices in your OT network so you can easily restore their configuration back to their known good state should an incident or risk occur and require rolling back changes that must be undone quickly without having to analyze log files to understand why devices became misconfigured in the first place.

An effective ICS security policy and plan are the keys to keeping your OT infrastructure safe, so create one as soon as possible. Define roles and responsibilities, establish consequences for failure to comply, and ensure all team members understand what’s expected of them. Furthermore, get corporate support so everyone is committed to meeting long-term security goals together.

Mark Funk
Mark Funk is an experienced information security specialist who works with enterprises to mature and improve their enterprise security programs. Previously, he worked as a security news reporter.