Securing the Internet of Things (IoT) for industrial and utility companies

Cyber attackers don’t wait—deploying technologies at a faster pace than securing them can open up an internet of threats
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The state of IoT security in industrial and utilities

The Internet of Things (IoT) has become ubiquitous. Insights derived from data collected from connected devices are being used across industries to enhance productivity, solve problems, and create new business opportunities and operational efficiencies. But there are also risks. Security was an afterthought for many early generation IoT applications, creating vulnerabilities in the network and the potential for industrial process interruption, manipulation, or espionage. But the Internet of Things can’t become simply the internet of threats. Industry and utilities companies, in particular, need to develop new strategies to mitigate and manage cyber-risks.

Adopting practices and protective technologies to mitigate IoT security risks

It’s mind-boggling how fast IoT technology is flourishing across all industries, including industrial and utilities companies. The IoT market is projected to grow from an installed base of 15 billion devices in 2015 to 30 billion devices in 2020 and 75 billion in 2025. The volume of data generated will reach 600 zettabytes per year by 2020.

IoT for industrial environments, driven mostly by next-generation manufacturing, is also referred to as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and represents a huge market, one that could add 14 trillion USD to the global economy by 2030. IIoT can harness the data from machines and equipment to transform the processes and systems of the modern plant environment. And from smart meters and sensors to alarms, IoT devices are flooding utility operations. It makes sense that these industries use IoT for things such as real-time data analytics, equipment monitoring, predictive maintenance, and machine automation beyond corporate borders.

But underlying concerns about the security and vulnerability of devices and sensors are justified. According to the 19th edition of the IBM Global C-suite Study conducted by the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV), 36 percent of executives surveyed say securing an IoT platform and its devices is a top challenge for their organizations. An IBV benchmarking study of 700 industrial and utilities IT and OT leaders found that devices and sensors, followed by IoT platforms, are the most vulnerable parts of IoT deployments.

IoT solutions span information technology (IT), operational technology (OT), and consumer technology (CT) functions. Deploying IoT technologies at a faster pace than they are secured can open organizations to dangers greater than negative public sentiment. For industrial manufacturing, chemical, oil and gas, and utilities, security breaches can lead to large-spread contamination, environmental disasters, and even personal harm. OT has become a growing target, accounting for 30 percent of all cyberattacks. In the Middle East, 50 percent of cyberattacks are directed against the oil and gas industry, creating major impacts to safety, productivity, and efficiency.

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Meet the authors

Timothy Hahn

Marcel Kisch

James Murphy

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, Global Leader IoT, Security & Blockchain IBM Watson and Cloud Platform

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Originally published 01 March 2018