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Boosting Manufacturing IoT Device Security With Zero Trust

As more IT teams from modern manufacturing plants discuss IoT security issues and solutions, many increasingly prioritize a “zero trust” approach to access control. Committing requires a fundamental shift in understanding regarding IoT device security. Employees must receive training about how a zero-trust architecture differs from what they previously knew.

Many workers will have some understanding of IoT security issues and solutions, and they’ll want to know why access control measures will soon change and what it means for them. While there’s no easy or fast way to adopt zero-trust methods, people will get better results by following widely accepted processes.

Understand Current IoT Security Issues and Solutions

It’s not always easy to convince manufacturing leaders it’s time to change how their companies keep IoT devices secure. That may be especially true if the people involved have little or no familiarity with zero-trust architecture and its benefits. Most individuals would rather stick with what they know, even if such solutions fall short in the current cybersecurity landscape.

However, manufacturers increasingly embrace IoT devices. These products provide real-time insights, improve machine-to-machine communication, reduce worker injuries and more. Many options on the market are increasingly easy to set up and start using, even for people new to them.

Unfortunately, manufacturers face significant risks without simultaneously investing in IoT device security while using these products. An October 2023 report about cyberattacks targeting industrial IoT and OT devices found the manufacturing sector experienced 54.5% of these incidents, averaging 6,000 of them per week.

Another worrisome takeaway was the 400% year-over-year jump in activity across all industries. It suggests hackers view IoT devices as lucrative targets. Many cybercriminals also take advantage of shortcomings in companies’ patch management plans. The study indicated that 34 of the 39 most popular IoT exploits hackers used were vulnerabilities in existence for more than three years.

These highlights emphasize the importance of understanding IoT risks are rising, and there’s no time to waste in limiting the damage. A zero-trust approach is not the only option for IoT device security, but it’s gaining ground. People should be open to using it while also taking time to understand the pros and cons of other possibilities.

Once leaders decide to pursue a zero-trust approach, they must focus on employee education and practical methods for limiting friction workers may experience during network access attempts. Being proactive will enable smoother process changes.

Learn the Aspects of Zero Trust for IoT Device Security

Transitioning to a zero-trust architecture at a manufacturing plant requires thinking differently about securing devices and providing access to them. The conventional approach is to assign passwords to each product or user on the network. Providing the correct credentials grants access, regardless of the person requesting it.

Similarly, when many people register new IoT products on a network, they can choose for the network to always remember it, allowing them to never enter the password again.

However, a business with a zero-trust architecture operates entirely differently. One of the main principles is no device or person automatically gets network access. Instead, everything happens on a case-by-case basis. Even the CEO or another high-ranking individual must go through the same access verification process as someone trying to use the network for the first time.

The principle of least privilege is another foundational principle of the zero-trust approach. It means a person or device only receives the necessary access to fulfill a role or function and nothing more. Applying that option to IoT device security usually requires segmenting the network so the connected product and the data it handles cannot affect the whole infrastructure.

One best practice is to use micro-segmentation to isolate critical devices and the sensitive information they hold, preventing hackers from using lateral movement to broaden their attacks after compromising and entering a network.

Continuous monitoring is another foundational element of a comprehensive zero-trust approach. For example, which users attempt to access resources, which devices do they use and where do these instances originate? Any deviation in the norm within those attributes may be enough to deny someone access until a deeper investigation occurs.

Include a Device Inventory in Your Zero-Trust Architecture

One of the challenging things about improving IoT device security is anything from the refrigerator in a factory’s cafeteria to the boiler used in a critical process could be a connected device hackers may target. This reality is a compelling reason to create a device inventory including each product and pertinent details.

What information does each device collect? Does the IoT product communicate with other connected devices within the manufacturing facility? Answering those questions allows people to see current vulnerabilities in a zero-trust architecture.

The responsible parties must also update the list when new product investments occur, especially since many products that didn’t formerly connect to the internet now have such features by default.

For example, people should undergo personalized evaluation processes when finding new testing equipment for research, development and quality control. Many products in this category gather data and automatically transfer it to the cloud for further analysis. These connectivity capabilities mean purchasers will need to add the items to an existing IoT device inventory.

A 2023 study indicated 97% of participants had IoT device security difficulties. Additionally, 89% of those polled who use the products said they’d experienced cyberattacks costing an average of $250,000. It’s easy to imagine how such problems could be even harder to curb if manufacturing security teams don’t know which devices are on the network and how they work.

As people expand and review their inventories, they can spot unnecessary device usage or functionality. Many companies rely on connected sensors to learn about machine faults before those problems cause shutdowns. However, it’s essential to confirm where that data goes after collection and how easy it might be for hackers to break into the sensors and alter critical machine settings.

Treat Zero-Trust Security as a Process

IoT security issues and solutions constantly evolve. Following the practices here will get you off to a good start in securing connected devices with zero-trust principles. However, staying abreast of new technologies and developments will make you maximally responsive in addressing emerging threats.

Any progress in improving security will create a strong foundation for using IoT devices safely and highly effectively, even as a company grows and its manufacturing goals change.

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over six years experience writing articles for the tech and industrial sectors. Subscribe to the Revolutionized newsletter for more content from Emily at
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