July 26, 2018

Securing IoT Requires Re-Imagining the Network for Utility Companies

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Today’s utility industry is at a pivotal point in terms of embracing the future and letting go of the past.  According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s IEO 2016, the world’s energy consumption will rise by 48% by 2040.  This explosion in energy consumption combined with the investment in Internet of Things (IoT) technology, including smart grid, smart meters, and building automation can allow utility companies to recapture the energy industry, drive top-line growth, and improve consumer engagement.

At the heart of this renaissance for utility companies is the insight into customer behavior.  IoT provides utility companies insight into real-time customer data that is immeasurable.  For example, utility companies can utilize building automation data to monitor consumer use, then adjust access as necessary.  Utilities can gather information on how to deliver services, manage infrastructure, and continue to meet consumer needs based on the influx of data supplied by IoT devices.

However as utilities step into the IoT market, they should do so with caution.  IoT’s solutions, by design are heterogeneous with different operating systems and different memory capabilities.  This lack of continuity demands that IT departments account for the management and security of traditional and IoT devices upon one network.  This presents several security challenges and creates vulnerabilities to unwanted attacks by hackers.

For utilities, the largest challenge in adopting IoT is their use of archaic technology.  For many, that means transitioning from a SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) computer system used for gathering and analyzing real time data to more advanced, flexible and secure networking solutions and architectures.

To be clear, utilities use of SCADA is not equipped to support today’s digitally connected IoT world.  To secure the enterprise network from attacks, utility companies need confidence in their ability to isolate and manage each individual device from the outside world.  Ultimately, the utility company wants to cloak the network from hackers and eliminate the devices from communicating with other systems.  This type of network security is imperative to ensuring that the company is not vulnerable to attacks.

Late last year, security firm Symantec identified a series of hacker attacks on energy companies in the U.S. and Europe.  It was determined that intruders had gained hands-on access to power grid operations within the U.S.  While the intrusion was identified and the malware was removed, it illustrates the devastation that can occur when the threat is not identified, the access point of breach is not secured and the intrusion is not quickly dealt with.  Other attacks that utility companies encounter include:

  • Denial of Service(DDoS): DDoS occurs when a website is overwhelmed with requests, which blocks other users from the site.  Mirai, a prolific DDoS attack that occurred in late 2016 which enlisted an army of botnet technology is an example of a “denial of service” attack.
  • Malware: Any type of virus, including worms and trojans can infiltrate a network.
  • Password attacks: Password attacks are a combination of brute force attacks that are used to gain access to insecure passwords.

A number of best practices should be considered by utility companies before adopting IoT onto a corporate network.

  • Holistic Network Security strategy for IoT: As organizations embrace the analytic value that IoT provides, they need to address the challenges that it places on the network to ensure that it is secure.  By taking a holistic view of their network security, organizations are able to better manage each individual device.
  • Domain Expertise:  Because IoT is relatively new, it is important that utilities identify the right security expertise to navigate the evolving world of digital transformation to increase operational efficiency and ensure security and manageability in the process.
  • Proven Technology Solutions: Today’s utility network requires that organizations safely add and subtract devices on the corporate network.  This requires that new thinking is applied to proven technology that is flexible and secure.
  • Managed Services:  Unlike a simple wired gateway with basic connectivity, There are options to provide a range of routing and software-defined networking capabilities, best-in-class LTE connections, and management tools that enable network management in the same pane of glass.

Even with all of the promise that IoT holds, it does come with significant baggage in terms of compromising the security of an organization’s network.  Connecting the increasing number of “things” to your internal network must be done in a secure and manageable manner that meets your organization’s internal security and compliance requirements.  Organizations that can securely control their network and move information to the cloud to make decisions will be well positioned to utilize the data in the future.

One proven approach to connecting an IoT-laden network is with a software-defined perimeter (SD-P).  SD-P takes a holistic approach to connecting and securing IoT devices on an organization’s existing network.  In creating an overlay network, SD-P provides IT teams a secure, direct connection between an IoT device with a simplified network architecture, reducing resources needed to manage the network, and offering end users a better management experience.

Contact us to have a conversation around IOT and Network Security.

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