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February 18, 2020 11:50am

Internet of Things: Balancing New Opportunities and Cyber Risks

Internet of Things: Balancing New Opportunities and Cyber Risks

An analysis of how to leverage the IoT, while averting risk to optimize business efficiencies

In today’s environment, productivity gains and workflow savings from internetworking with suppliers, contractors, and customers have become foundational in nature for manufacturing and logistics firms. However, these internetworked supply chains have created cyber security exposures for internal operations and across supply chains. One of the incidents that occurred during this evolution was Target’s massive data breach, which hit during the peak of the 2013 Holiday shopping season. Rather than attacking Target’s complex series of firewalls, the perpetrators simply attacked a less sophisticated HVAC provider in Target’s supply chain and “swam upstream” into Target’s internal systems.

The emerging world of Internet of Things (IoT) is now taking the concept of device connectivity within companies and across supply chains to the next level by enabling devices that have transitioned from analog waves to digital signals, in order to provide real-time controls of simple devices such as light bulbs up to complex manufacturing machinery. Yet the benefits of greater operational control and valuable performance analytics via these network connected digital devices has created even greater vulnerabilities and operational risks, particularly for manufacturers.

According to cyber security specialists, each of these network enabled devices can provide ready-made “landing points” for intruders. Something as simple as an IoT enabled light bulb has is often built with just enough native intelligence to enable simple connectivity to a network.  Yet each of these devices then possesses its own unique address on the network, which can be found and exploited. These experts advise that all devices in the network be identified and managed in a manner as to isolate those that have limited defensive capabilities. This particularly applies to devices that cannot be upgraded on an ongoing basis to provide defensive features, while capabilities of intruders continue to grow in sophistication.

The benefits for all companies seeking to positively exploit these new IoT enabled capabilities will surely outweigh risks for those who proactively address issues within their own environments and across their unique supply chains. That said, proactive defensive efforts such as identifying all network connected devices and ensuring that trading partners are vigilant in their environments will help mitigate exposures to attackers working to steal your data, and in some cases, your company.

 

 

Don Fitzpatrick

Chair, The Jefferson Foundation Board
Retired IBM Executive with 35+ years’ experience in technology