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Connectivity is Risky, But Manufacturers Need to Remain Protected

June 30, 2020
New report looks at millions of device connections to provide solid insight into growing a threat landscape.

Not only do today’s manufacturers live in a connected world, the reliance of these connections continues to intensify as IoT environments prove instrumental in fueling competition within an ever-evolving environment. After all, these connections are crucial components to the growing digital economy.

Of course, with connectivity comes risk. And manufacturers need to understand how these risks impact their organizations, if they hope to ultimately find ways to protect their operations as the need for digitalization intensifies.

In the recently released first edition of The Enterprise of Things Report, Forescout Research  Labs assessed the risk posture of over 8 million devices deployed across five verticals: financial services, government, healthcare, manufacturing and retail. Its audit of IoT-heavy applications and industries set the stage for Forescout to accurately identify points of risk inherent to device types, industry sectors and cybersecurity policies.

According to research results, the riskiest device groups include smart buildings, medical devices, networking equipment and VoIP phones. “IoT devices, which can be hard to monitor and control, exist in every vertical and can present risk to modern organizations, both as entry points into vulnerable networks or as final targets of specialized malware.

The report points to device types posing the highest level of risk as those “within physical access control systems. These devices are ubiquitous and literally open the doors to the physical world, bridging the gap between the cyber and physical realms. According to our data sample, physical access control solutions are the systems at highest risk due to the presence of many critical open ports, a lot of connectivity with risky devices and the presence of known vulnerabilities.”

“As an increasing number of risky IoT devices enter the network and destructive malware attacks to manufacturing processes become more common, network segmentation is more critical than ever to limit the exposed attack surface and reduce the potential impact of attacks,” Daniel dos Santos, research manager, Forescout Technologies tells IndustryWeek. “With the greater reliance on remote work, many devices are now connecting to the network with poor cyber hygiene which intensifies the risk to manufacturing networks. A malicious actor can leverage that one remote device to infiltrate or move laterally across the network to spread ransomware to machines that control manufacturing processes.”

Furthermore, the number and diversity of connected devices in virtually every industry vertical has presented new challenges for all organizations and indirectly made every business leader a cybersecurity stakeholder. “Cyber risk is an interdisciplinary problem and there are many ways to reduce cyber risk in an organization. Getting and sharing threat intelligence (e.g., by joining an information sharing and analysis center) is one of them. Applying security controls can also help reduce cyber risk, with the advantage that technical controls can be automated by security tools.”

Reliance on aging Windows environments also continues to present problems. Although not strictly limited to manufacturing, more than 30% of managed Windows devices in manufacturing and over 35% in healthcare are running recently unsupported versions of Windows. Additionally, almost 30% of managed Windows devices in Financial Services are running operating systems that are not patched against the BlueKeep vulnerability.

“It was surprising to see how prevalent Windows is in manufacturing networks and how often these machines run older versions of the operating system,” says dos Santos. “While the number of IoT and OT devices is ever increasing, Windows machines still remain dominant and can introduce a layer of threats to manufacturing processes if not properly managed.”

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