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January 3, 2020

5 ways to protect aging systems from cyberattacks

Hackers continue to inflict more and more damage on enterprise companies’ networks, and manufacturing is seen as one of the world’s most exploitable industries. According to a 2019 IBM X-Force report, manufacturing ranked fifth among the top 10 most frequently targeted industry sectors.

Today’s condition monitoring sensors and other Wi-Fi-enabled devices possess connecting capabilities and more advanced cybersecurity. These new technologies can help bring legacy systems and processes into the modern era. Yet, infrastructure complications often prevent organizations from upgrading systems or linking aging assets to new and more secure ones.

Connectivity, siloed equipment, and closed environments are frequent problems. But the biggest roadblock is usually cost—specifically, the cost to:

  • Upgrade existing infrastructures
  • Install and add Wi-Fi where needed
  • Add personnel to manage the updated network infrastructure

However, your costs for updating or replacing legacy systems should be weighed carefully against the potential loss from a cyberattack.

Easy ways to bolster your organization’s cybersecurity now

Most experts agree that cybersecurity is an afterthought for many companies and viewed as an investment that offers little or no benefit to the bottom line. Changing an organization’s lax attitude toward cybersecurity is one of the most important hurdles to overcome.

Other quick and inexpensive ways to protect your organization:

  1. Replace small outdated connected software and devices. Compared to recovering from a cyberattack, buying a printer is cheap. If an old printer is not being used, but it’s still connected to the network, it could be a security risk. A hacker could use a phishing scheme or pick up administrative passwords to gain network access through the obsolete, but still connected printer. Get rid of it.
  2. Eliminate third-party network system usage. Due to security concerns, most IT departments tend to bristle at third-party usage of a company’s network. Suggest that a contractor or other third-party user set up their own external Wi-Fi hot spot to circumvent the problem and avoid having to let them use your system.
  3. Consider the human factor. Viruses, malware, and more can be introduced accidentally onto your network in many ways. For example, an employee could connect his or her personal computer to your system and be unaware it contains a virus. To avert the problem, forbid any external equipment from being linked to your internal network without permission. You can also implement a BYOD (bring your own device) policy.
  4. Vet your vendors. Review and verify your vendor partners’ credentials and insist that they confirm that they have vetted any subcontractors they might hire. Third parties have been frequently cited in reports as one of the biggest threats to an organization’s security.
  5. Bring in a cybersecurity professional. It is likely worth the expense to hire an expert to assess and confirm that your network is secure. Compared to the cost of a breach, this is money well spent.

Questions to ask before adding new technology

Dismissing or blocking new technology from your enterprise is not an effective way to address cybersecurity concerns. Ultimately, your organization will lose out on the efficiency, cost savings, and connectivity it offers.

Security considerations should be top of mind when an organization decides to integrate any new devices into its infrastructure. You need to feel confident that the products are armed with the latest cybersecurity protection features.

Here are a few questions you should ask a supplier before implementing new technology such as Wi-Fi-enabled sensors.

  • What should I know before installing a sensor device on my network?
    It’s important to understand what a remote sensor does, how it works, and how your data is being gathered, transmitted, and stored. Ask your vendor what protective features are integrated into the device and if they use any third parties to keep your data secure. Suppliers should have implementation guides explaining the installation processes and be available and able to discuss any cybersecurity gaps with you.
  • How is my data being protected while on its way to the cloud and once it gets there?
    Data collected and stored in the cloud must be protected. For example, Fluke remote condition monitoring sensors and handheld devices use the latest TLS encryption protocols to encrypt transmitted data. The cloud-stored data is then guarded using active monitoring, layers of firewalls, and by third-party cybersecurity experts.
  • Is my Wi-Fi-enabled device exploitable?
    When deploying any Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices, such as wireless vibration and power monitoring sensors, these devices should adhere to industry security standards and best practices.Wi-Fi-enabled devices such as Fluke sensors are configured to use the WPA2 personal/Enterprise Wi-Fi security mode. This mode offers the security needed for wireless networks in business environments. It provides individualized and centralized control of access to your Wi-Fi network. Users are given login IDs that must be used when connecting to your network. Credentials can be changed or withdrawn by an administrator at any time.

As an added benefit, when a wireless device such as a remote condition monitoring sensor is mounted on an older asset, it enables the equipment to connect and integrate with more advanced and safer systems. Additionally, the sensors can be installed easily, and don’t require you to enlist expert help.

Be smart and stay secure

The shift from old, closed, and complex system infrastructures to new, connected, and open environments is quickly becoming a competitive necessity. Manufacturing stands to benefit greatly from IIoT-enabled technologies and the improved data integration and connectivity it provides.

As organizations make the transition to smart manufacturing through automation, AI, and machine learning, manufacturers must continue to strengthen their cybersecurity.

As technology becomes more sophisticated, so do cybercriminals. Among the various approaches listed here, a company-wide cybersecurity strategy is the key to protecting against cyberattacks.