Remote working and security risks: Secure in the knowledge

They say knowledge is power. This is especially true when managing security remotely. As an unprecedented number of workers are now remotely accessing industrial production systems — in some cases from their own homes and private computers — security must be prioritized. Reinhard Mayr, head of information security and research operations at COPA-DATA, explains how automation software is vital for protecting the security of previously-isolated systems.

 

According to Kaspersky Lab, the multinational cybersecurity and anti-virus provider, the company blocked double the amount of Distribution Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks in first three months of 2020 than during the fourth quarter of 2019. The report noted a “significant increase in both the quantity and quality of DDoS attacks”, which can be partly attributed to the rise in remote working during this period.

 

From a security perspective, it is not a good idea to have multiple points of access in a single system — particularly at a time when workers are heavily-reliant on digital resources. Avoiding this is the very concept of security hardening.

 

Hardening refers to the process of securing a system by reducing its surface of vulnerability. This vulnerability is larger when a system performs more functions, or has multiple remote workers logging in.

 

Businesses are often aware of the need to secure remote channels and virtual private network (VPNs). But, often, they forget that the power and capabilities — and security — of these access methods must match the machinery at the production facility. Conventional industrial communication protocols (IPs) likely won’t cut it when the aim is to secure programmable logic controllers (PLCs) on a production line.

 

Problems of insecurity, and confusions as to who is controlling what, are exacerbated by the use of standard IPs that may not be configured to company guidelines. The result is a lot of open interfaces to a given application. And, once a hacker has breached a system, it’s very difficult to get them out again.

 

When strengthening remote security, a number of questions should be asked. For instance, what standard user accounts have been created for an application? Are the encryption algorithms up-to-date? And, how can each employee authenticate themselves? If the answers to these concerns are not documented, how can these systems be secured effectively?

 

 

Everyone on board

Effective security begins with good processes and procedures. Ideally, workers across the organization should be aware of security protocols. However, without accurate data in relation to threats and vulnerabilities, it can be difficult for organizations to verify these risks in the first place — let alone lay them down in clear documentation.

 

The zenon Software Platform by COPA-DATA is developed to highlight these vulnerabilities and allows security managers to take appropriate action. The platform provides one integrated environment to combine data recording, machine operation and business intelligence — all of which can be controlled through a single platform.

 

Consider this as an example. A pharmaceutical manufacturing plant operator is remotely monitoring its production. The site manufactures batches of customized medication, requiring the operator to input confidential recipe data over the internet. Without a secure system architecture, the system is vulnerable to unauthorized access — which puts recipe data and intellectual property at risk.

 

zenon will only allow authorized clients to access the server, to ensure that project files cannot be manipulated maliciously or accidentally. Moreover, its security features can ensure that files entering the server are protected between the editing and runtime phases of production. Using strong encryption, the system ensures that no file manipulation can occur.

 

The platform also visualizes processes in real-time to give operators a full overview and control over the equipment. The enhanced visibility supports well-founded decisions. As a result, the IT team can pre-empt and better react to — or avoid — problems.

 

The current trends towards homeworking present many challenges for businesses in relation to security. However, this shift in working environments can also present an opportunity to reassess and strengthen security through the proper use and hardening of software. Data by Kaspersky Lab illustrates that cyber threats are on the increase. With this rise, the security of plants — and knowledge of their employees — needs to increase, too.

 

 

This article was also published by Reinhard Mayr on LinkedIn