Cybersecurity in the cloud: how to fortify your company

Courtesy of CFE Media and Technology
Courtesy of CFE Media and Technology

Power companies, chemical plants, hospitals and critical infrastructure rely on cloud-based services to monitor and control vital processes. This means cloud-managed facilities and industrial control systems (ICS) face omnipresent threats. Rapidly advancing technology, changing work environments and many other factors challenge cybersecurity professionals.

Legacy technology, complex environments

Smart business managers provide budgets to keep their networks up to date. Most companies do not update their hardware as often as they should. There will always be unplanned changes in technology and services. Facilities relying on older networks or using outdated hardware are particularly challenging.

When applying a security patch, it needs testing and tracking. A close working relationship between network security professionals and the development team is critical for an efficient and effective rollout. Patch management policies should include automated tracking and monitoring, as well as testing for exploits.

Comprehensive cybersecurity policies ease patch tracking and implementation. Good policies include automated identification of legacy technology and the removal of unnecessary patches. These unwanted artifacts can increase mitigation time in the event of a threat, amplifying the danger posed by a zero-day attack.

Dangerous failures, massive cost

Cybersecurity breaches can cause millions of dollars of damage, destroy critical infrastructure and alter innocent lives forever. They cost consumers, governments and the private sector trillions of dollars each year — and the bill keeps rising.

In 2021, a group of hackers using a compromised password on an unused account accessed vital networks at Colonial Pipeline. They stole gigabytes of data and uploaded ransomware. The result was a six-day-long national emergency. Colonial Pipeline paid millions of dollars in Bitcoin to the hackers.

Another attacker turned to a water treatment plant in Oldsmar, Florida. They gained entry through remote viewing software developed by a third party. The intrusion went unchallenged.

The hacker took over a workstation and adjusted a process that controlled the amount of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) used to treat drinking water. They increased the amount of this caustic chemical, commonly known as lye, to 100 times its normal level. An employee noticed the intrusion when the cursor on his monitor moved without input. As soon as the hacker left the network, he adjusted the NaOH levels back to normal. Plant managers maintain other systems would have discovered tainted water before it left the plant, but the intrusion represents an unacceptable level of risk.

Standards-driven solutions

A failure of company policy may be the root cause for cybersecurity failure, but issues can often be prevented. An up-to-date cybersecurity policy coupled with automatic auditing measures can eliminate many security breaches. Workforce compliance with changing policies should be tested regularly. Long-term solutions require automated policy enforcement, audits and AI-assisted network monitoring. It’s easy to come up with fixes for security breaches after they occur, but it can feel nearly impossible to determine where the next attack will come from or what it might be.

Fast data, fast threats

Cloud-managed services can change without notice. Fast-paced, distributed development teams present endpoint security concerns. Modern, secure designs feature virtual interfaces, secure controls and high-bandwidth sensor arrays suitable for digital twinning in a world that embraces the Internet of Things (IoT). This flow of data — its nature, volume and velocity — can change throughout the day, making traditional monitoring difficult. Cybersecurity professionals can leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to help them locate problems and respond quickly.

Corporate policy, complete compliance

Modern cybersecurity drives rapid changes in corporate policy. This constant rate of change can lead to staff fatigue, and that may lead to poor compliance rates. Effective corporate cybersecurity policies address this pernicious issue and provide a clear path in the event of a breach.

With input from information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) and ICS feedback, AI apps can detect unusual data and communications. AI can be leveraged to guide staff into complete policy compliance.

Dynamic environment, complex tasks

Working securely at scale and speed demands attention and the ability to adapt. Changes in cloud-based services in multi-cloud environments present many challenges. Innovative hardware, particularly in sensor technology and virtualization, presents unforeseen complications and possible exploits. Many factors work together to complicate cybersecurity efforts.

Frequent attacks, solid defenses

No online facility is immune from cyberattacks. Cloud-integrated facilities, with proactive and robust cybersecurity policies, combined with regular audits and updates, present a difficult target to hackers. It simply takes too much effort to mount an effective attack. Attackers want easy targets. Unfortunately, there are plenty of them.

The goal is to make a facility as difficult as possible for intruders to exploit. Minimal-performance cybersecurity is not an option for critical network environments. It is not an option for anyone that cares about their online business. Organizations unwilling to provide adequate budgets for necessary software and hardware upgrades are playing a dangerous game. By leveraging the right tools, companies can prevent and proactively respond to cyberattacks.




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