Why you need managed services for IOT security

Growing complexity and subsequent changes to the network create complicated challenges that exceed the capabilities of under-resourced IT departments.
Read time 4min 30sec

A growing number of companies want the benefits of the Internet of things (IOT) and operational technology devices and systems.

The biggest problem is that they usually aren’t secured straight out of the box, which makes adding them to the network a time-consuming and fraught process, even for those companies that actually have the skilled people they need to do the job properly. That limits the benefits, erodes return on investment, and exposes the business to enormous risk.

The problem, though, is that they refuse to be ignored.

When one farmer starts using them to measure water flow, rainfall, diesel and paraffin consumption, labourer inputs, soil additives, yields, livestock illnesses, and so much more, then the neighbouring farmer has to find a way to improve productivity. It’s impossible to match the benefits without using similar technologies.

The same holds true for many industries and their markets. Government departments, warehouses, shopping malls, emergency services – there’s a whole list of people using these things already and the variety grows almost daily. Not surprising then that Gartner estimates 50 billion such devices will connect by 2021.

New exploits by ferociously efficient and committed hackers keep shifting the goalposts further ahead.

Most companies have, until now, made it IT administrators’ responsibility to deploy and secure these devices. Each time a new one is added, the administrators have to deploy them and secure them, taking into account the different security protocols they have as standard, trying to add what’s missing or somehow ring-fence the devices while simultaneously allowing them to hop on and off the network as necessary. And all without impeding the business process or operational activity they’re tied to.

It’s understandably easier with fewer, smaller deployments of simpler devices. But the growing complexity that comes with scale and variety, plus subsequent changes to the network, create complicated challenges that exceed the capabilities of under-resourced IT departments.

Evolving security risks also impact these environments. New exploits by ferociously efficient and committed hackers keep shifting the goalposts further ahead.

Quite frankly, many IT people simply don’t have the time to look after these environments properly. Even a popular office productivity suite run from the cloud reports that, for a number of reasons, the huge majority of administrators aren’t using its built-in protocols correctly to secure their environments.

One of the major culprits is that there simply aren’t enough security experts to go ‘round. There will be 3.5 million unfilled cyber security jobs worldwide by 2021.

That’s why there’s a growing trend for companies to use managed cyber security services. They get the skills and platform they need to cater for their whole environment or whatever portions they need, such as IOT.

Stitching up their environments with a single platform makes sense. In their IOT environments they get the ability to rapidly add or remove devices as they require without labouring over the idiosyncrasies of each and every technology and operating system. They get security that’s constantly updated along with whatever security skills they need.

They also get the tiered, aggregated, correlated, intelligent presentation. That’s a crucial factor in an age when it is vital to have visibility into what’s on the network, what it’s doing, and who it’s talking to.

Solid platforms provide model-based security with security that’s signature-based. These intelligently determine what constitutes the network, how the devices operate, and what data they retrieve and transmit. Any changes raise flags that alert operators while the platform near-instantaneously quarantines any deviant activity.

That rapidly shuts down things like ransomware that spread at speeds only computers are capable of. No human can detect ransomware spreading across the company network and shut it down before it infects everything it wants to. But another computer can.

The same is true for a software bot bashing away at every IOT device on your network, looking for a vulnerability to exploit so it can pop some dodgy code into the works. Humans can take weeks or months to figure that out – sometimes they never do.

They seldom check for that sort of thing and if whatever service the IOT devices are attached to runs uninterrupted, they have little cause in the first instance. But, again, another computer that’s capable of a small measure of intelligence can detect that, locate the source, alert an operator, block the attack, update the threat intelligence centre to be aware of certain IP threat vectors and types, and keep the attached business processes running uninterrupted.

It massively cuts the load on the human operators and it’s lightning-fast. It’s effective against the typical cyber risk, which is a bot probing around the edges of your network for a way in. But it’s also enormously effective and beneficial against advanced, more sophisticated attacks by smart bots and even humans. 

Vernon Fryer

Chief information security officer and head of CDOC at NEC XON.

Vernon Fryer is chief information security officer and head of CDOC at NEC XON.

He has nearly 50 years of experience in the cyber security industry. He has served at IBM, SAPS, Interpol Southern Africa, and been SA’s national head of the Computer Crime Unit. He lives and breathes cyber security.

Fryer has investigated computer fraud, helped track assets in liquidation, testified in intellectual property disputes, conducted forensic investigations and numerous security audits for regulatory requirements.

He was on the International Computer Crime Work Group and in 2008 was included in the Who’s Who in the World.

Today, Fryer develops business solutions that mitigate unified cyber and physical security threats, and operates Africa’s foremost cyber security managed service. He also consults to the continent’s most prominent defence, government, financial and mineral resources operations, as well as businesses in several other sectors.

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