Houston, Texas was the host city of this year’s mGuard User Conference, held at the Marriott West Loop in Houston (co-sponsored by Phoenix Contact and Innominate Security Technologies.) With speakers from mGuard’s Berlin headquarters and attendees from around the US, industrial cyber-security specialists traveled to hear and see developments in the fight against network intrusion (as well as enjoy some delicious food, including authentic Tex-Mex.) Starting with a cocktail reception at the Phoenix Connect user center in north Houston, attendees were given insight into modern cybersecurity’s fight against network intrusion, and how mGuard’s products and services keep industry safe.
Discussions of ADP, or “Advanced Persistent Threat,” were numerous–hackers just keep trying , and many eventually get through. I was able to meet and talk with people who deal with it daily. It’s not just about hacking the company’s Twitter account—it’s about safeguarding you, your company, and your company’s entire world from electronic intrusion.
Two live hacking demonstrations demonstrated how easily an mGuard product blocked a direct attack. During the first live hacking demonstration, the speaker needed only ten minutes to sign in, bypass security and hack his way into something. This was a closed environment, where he wasn’t actually going to do harm. But with network security at a chemical plant, or the steel mill’s blast furnace that was hacked in Germany last year, the danger of a network intrusion becomes loss of life, damage in the physical plant, trade secrets being lost and exploited, as well as a complete shutdown of operations. In most, if not all cases, cyber-attacks can, and will, cost the company a lot of money.
One speaker pointed out that a DOS (“denial of service”) attack, which floods the target’s website rendering it unusable, can be had online for about $150. With more and more of everything moving online onto The Internet of Things, the threat and dangers of people with ill intent is a bigger and bigger deal. (As well as a bigger industry.) Industrial cyber-security involves keeping attacks from volatile facilities like chemical plants, located in places like Pasadena, Texas and Chalmette, Louisiana (an area that suffered massive flood damage after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.) Any place that can suffer damage from a network intrusion is vulnerable.
With the recent news about Big Data revolutionizing efficiency of operations at Rolls-Royce’s industrial division, cyber-security is more important than ever. Why? Rolls-Royce is working on self-sailing ships, much like Google’s (in)famous self-driving car. (Hackers recently took control of a Jeep through the online entertainment system and forced it to crash. It was a demonstration on how easily nearly anyone can overtake any online system.) Remember the movie Speed? Imagine one of the self-sailing ships getting hacked and hijacked. Every old disaster film would be coming true in a heartbeat–because that’s how fast someone can get into a network, cause chaos and sign out. An attack can happen before nobody knows what’s happening until it’s over and the IT people have to do damage assessment and disaster recovery.
How can this happen so easily? Most people believe it’s super-smart hackers in a remote location—and sometimes it is. But in many offices, there are User IDs and passwords on a Post-It note on monitors, because the end user just HAS to keep that handy. It’s also quite handy for someone interested in sabotage too—but for some reason, it doesn’t dawn on many people to keep their company login identity safe. I used to keep my login credentials written on a Post-It note, too–locked in my desk drawer at all times until needed. But then, I worked in IT, and had mandatory training in things like that. I also paid attention.
Poor passwords are also a problem—not changed often enough, or re-used in other places like social media sites. Exclusive passwords for company logon credentials, made complicated, and changed regularly, go a long way in stopping network intrusions.
Other inroads to critical network infrastructure can be had by service people connecting to the customer’s network with their own laptop and taking malware back to their company. Even worse, receiving a “vetted” flash drive from a client and finding out how badly it was infected, because no security updates were done in a long time. Or their current security didn’t stop something. Happens all the time.
This kind of scenario was clearly pointed out when I found one of the little cards on my table with this handwritten on it:
What happens when Josh does field service and plugs his computer into the customer’s network?
Well. . .anything can happen, really—it depends on whose side he’s on. Josh could go into the network and have a field day reconfiguring. Has Josh passed a background check, or was he hired on during a rush period? Josh could create another admin account so he can access the network from anywhere and set up a DOS attack to happen later. Or he could just have a little fun with making the network entertaining (and annoying for the customer.) Josh could also disable the network’s security systems, leaving it wide open to unauthorized access from anyone who wants to. With the possibility of everything from simple mischief to major calamities from a single sign-on, cybersecurity is a top priority for any company.
There is no 100% fail-safe solution, no “magic pill” for company cybersecurity. A combination of good security hardware and software, due diligence in keeping up with updates and security patches, staying on top of educating employees on the importance of best practices for security, and making sure those best practices are followed on a daily basis are best ways to keep a network safe in an industrial setting. (Crossing your fingers helps, too.)
One of mGuard’s many offerings are a private cloud and a VPN (virtual private network.) Signing on through a well-protected VPN is much safer than one of your employees being hacked at Starbucks on their “telecommute days.”
There are basically three types of people who can do damage by getting into computer systems: governmental agencies (FBI, CIA, etc.), hackers (i.e., Anonymous) and. . .employees. And who is the most likely individual to do something like this? The one who wears the company’s badge.
There were lengthy discussions of The Internet of Things–the items in our daily lives that are increasingly Internet-connected, going beyond the smartphones, laptops and entertainment (like TVs.) Futurists predict machines of all kinds, including household appliances, to be Internet-enabled one day. Crock Pot now makes a slow cooker with a web-enabled control module on the front that allows a user to turn the unit, up, down, off, or adjust the temperature remotely from a smartphone app.
I mentioned the Rolls-Royce story to Sid Snitkin from ARC Advisory Group, and asked him if he thought things were becoming techie for the sake of being techie. He agreed that the “tech guys” want to do more and are pushing the envelope with more and more “attached” to the Internet. I told him about the app-controlled Crock Pot, and asked him about it, pointing out: “Do you really want your dinner connected to your Wi-Fi?” Mr. Snitkin hadn’t heard about that Crock-Pot, but was quite amused by the concept.
Can your company’s cybersecurity defend its infrastructure, and keep assets, employees and data safe? If you’re not sure, it’s time to check on it. mGuard can help.