With increasing cyber-attacks against critical infrastructure, businesses in these vulnerable environments must be aware of the challenges and flaws of their current security models.
Enterprise security strategy has long been based around an internal perimeter containing all of a company’s data in a secure location. This security model provides trusted insiders almost unrestricted access to enterprise IT resources while keeping external threats out via firewalls and other intrusion prevention solutions. Practically speaking, this means that everyone with network access, regardless of their position or requirements, can access confidential and proprietary data.
Companies increasingly resort to identity-based solutions to improve system security while maintaining employee productivity and business continuity as they struggle to differentiate between authorized users and attackers.
Unfortunately, critical infrastructure businesses are far behind when it comes to implementing identity-based solutions and modernizing existing systems, which often have both Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) components. OT systems used to be separated from other technologies and thought to be mostly impenetrable, but today IT and OT systems are now converging or operating side by side. This change has brought on a proliferation of new, serious threats.
Rising Threats to Critical Infrastructure
The challenge of safeguarding a company’s data and controls has increased over the past few years because of digital transformation activities. This is true, especially in the field of operational technology. Greater efficiency has been made possible by digital transformation, but it has also resulted in a tremendous increase in the number of equipment, systems, and devices that need to be secured, expanding the attack surface.
Geopolitical tensions, in addition to technological improvements, are a driving force behind both IT and OT cyberattacks, as certain threat actors and nations view cyber-attacks as a way to wreak havoc on a global scale without engaging in traditional warfare.
Identity-Based Security Helps Reduce Cyber Risks for Critical Infrastructure
Identity-based access helps ensure users are accurately verified and then constantly authorized when they seek access to various resources, unlike perimeter-based security, which gives access depending on inherited parameters. Identity-based security restricts the ability of attackers to gain access to application vulnerabilities.
Perimeter-based technology is particularly problematic when it comes to critical infrastructure because operations often require remote access. Often operators have to manage distributed OT systems remotely and from various locations, and third parties also require access to carry out essential duties like maintenance. By eliminating legacy remote access solutions that primarily operate on a perimeter-based scale and replacing it with identity-based solutions, OT/IT enterprises can secure on-site, remote, and third-party users simultaneously and with a single platform.
Implementing Identity-Based Solutions
Organizations must first choose how to run their OT and IT departments most efficiently before integrating an identity-based solution. As critical infrastructure becomes more digitized and businesses seek to increase efficiency, many opt to converge their IT and OT departments. It has been discovered that companies that permanently combine the two departments risk security breaches or cyber-attacks that could irreparably damage an OT system. Companies should think about having their IT securely interface with their OT instead of permanently combining these two departments to increase efficiency and security.
Businesses can begin the process of implementing the security model once they have a basic understanding of how identity-based solutions work. The first step is to add Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) to legacy and critical applications.
Second, based on the risk level of each set of users, companies should start a phased approach to introducing different access points. In most circumstances, third-party vendors are the weakest link in an organization’s security chain, especially with critical infrastructure. Organizations can significantly lower the risk of an attack by ensuring authentication from these partners. After strong authentication has been implemented, these vendors can then transition to full identity-based access.