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The ISAGCA Blog

Welcome to the official blog of the ISA Global Cybersecurity Alliance (ISAGCA).

This blog covers topics on automation cybersecurity such as risk assessment, compliance, educational resources, and how to leverage the ISA/IEC 62443 series of standards.

The material and information contained on this website is for general information purposes only. ISAGCA blog posts may be authored by ISA staff and guest authors from the cybersecurity community. Views and opinions expressed by a guest author are solely their own, and do not necessarily represent those of ISA. Posts made by guest authors have been subject to peer review.

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5 Advanced Cyber Defense Strategies for Automated Operations

As automation technologies become increasingly integral to businesses, the need for effective cybersecurity grows. Cyber threats are always changing and can pose big risks to automated systems.

This means that you must understand these changing threats to protect against them effectively. But how do you do that?

The key to success in automation cybersecurity lies in being able to predict and respond to these evolving threats with the right tools and knowledge. This ensures that automated systems always remain secure and reliable. This article discusses some of the key defense mechanisms to help you protect your automation better.

 

Changing Cyber Threats in Automated Systems 

As automation becomes more common in businesses and critical systems, the types of cyber threats targeting these systems are changing and growing more complex. Thus, it’s no wonder that the last few years saw these trends emerge:

  1. More complex malware. Malware, like viruses and trojans, is becoming smarter and harder to detect. It can change to find weaknesses in automated systems.
  2. Increase in ransomware attacks. There's a rise in attacks where hackers lock data and demand payment to release it. These are particularly dangerous for automated systems.
  3. Internet of Things (IoT) weaknesses. As automation increasingly integrates IoT devices, the security of these devices becomes crucial. Many IoT devices are not sufficiently secure, making them potential weak points for cyber attacks.
  4. Phishing and social engineering. Given the critical nature of many enterprise operations, every employee, regardless of their position in the cybersecurity hierarchy, can be a target. They may face risks like phishing, ransomware, and even more complex threats like synthetic identity fraud or blackmail. This human element makes even the most advanced automated systems vulnerable.

Advanced Defense Strategies in Automation Cybersecurity 

In most cases, one defense strategy will not be sufficient. You will need to mix and match several defenses to keep your automation safe from threats. Here are some key advanced defense strategies:

Deception Technology

This strategy involves creating traps or decoys within a network to mislead attackers. These traps can be fake files, databases, or even entire systems that appear real to the attacker. 

When attackers interact with these decoys, it not only alerts the security team but also gives them valuable information about the attackers' methods and intentions. 

This allows the defenders to understand and predict the attackers’ moves, making it easier to counter them. Deception technology is effective because it takes advantage of the attackers' need to interact with a system, turning their strength into a weakness.

Microsegmentation

Microsegmentation divides a network into smaller, isolated segments. Each segment has its own security controls and can only interact with other segments in specific, controlled ways. This approach limits the movement of an attacker within the network. 

Even if they breach one segment, they can't easily access others. It’s like having compartments in a ship; if one compartment is breached, it doesn’t mean the whole ship will sink. This strategy is particularly useful in complex networks, where different parts of the network have different security needs.

AI and ML Defense Solutions 

AI and Machine Learning are becoming increasingly vital in cybersecurity, with their ability to detect and respond to threats in real time. These technologies analyze vast amounts of data to identify patterns indicative of cyber attacks. They continually learn from each new attack, constantly improving their threat detection capabilities. 

However, there’s also a darker side to the whole ordeal, with malicious actors weaponizing AI to automate their attacks. But at the same time, businesses are heavily invested in AI solutions–99% of them, in fact. 

This doesn’t just involve automating their workflows. On the contrary, companies of all sizes are rapidly adopting defensive solutions that harness predictive analysis, real-time threat intelligence and provide a drastically lower number of false positives compared to traditional defensive tools. 

Zero Trust Model

This strategy operates on the principle of "never trust, always verify." Every request for access to any resource is treated as a potential threat, regardless of where it comes from. Users must be authenticated and authorized, and their actions are constantly monitored for suspicious behavior. 

This approach minimizes the risk of insider threats and reduces the impact of a breach. In a zero-trust environment, even if attackers gain access to a network, they find it much harder to move around and access sensitive resources.

Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR)

EDR systems continuously monitor and collect data from endpoints (like laptops, mobile devices, and servers) within a network. They use this data to identify suspicious activities that might indicate a cyber attack. 

If a threat is detected, the EDR system can respond automatically, either by alerting security staff or taking action to isolate the affected endpoint. This helps in quickly containing threats and preventing them from spreading across the network.

Best Practices in Automation Cybersecurity 

To maintain robust security in automation systems, certain best practices are essential. These practices help in preventing cyber attacks and minimizing their impact if they occur.

Continuous Software Updates and Patch Management

Regularly update all software, including operating systems, applications, and network tools.

This process is vital for closing security loopholes that cyber attackers often exploit. It's not just about updating major systems; every application, no matter how small, needs attention. Promptly applying the latest patches and updates released by software vendors can significantly reduce the risk of cyberattacks. 

This practice is a foundational aspect of cybersecurity hygiene. It ensures that software defenses remain strong against evolving cyber threats. 

In-depth Employee Training and Cybersecurity Awareness

Your in-depth employee training and cybersecurity awareness should teach all staff about the importance of cybersecurity and how to handle various threats. It's essential to emphasize that personal and professional activities must be kept separate. 

For example, if someone on the team wants to dabble in day trading or check personal emails, they should do this outside of the main network, no matter how small these activities seem. This rule might sound simple, but it's a key part of keeping your network safe. 

Ensure that everyone understands and follows these kinds of rules. This can greatly reduce the risk of cyber threats to your organization.

Robust Access Controls and Multi-factor Authentication

Robust Access Controls and Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) are essential in safeguarding your organization's network and data. Access controls determine who is allowed to enter your system and what they can do within it. 

This involves setting up permissions and roles to ensure that only authorized personnel can access sensitive information. MFA adds an extra layer of security. It requires users to provide two or more verification factors to access their accounts, not just a password.

Regular and Comprehensive Security Audits

Conduct detailed security audits that go beyond surface-level checks. These should assess the effectiveness of current security measures, identify potential vulnerabilities, and provide actionable insights for improvement.

Conclusion

With cyber threats becoming more advanced, our defense strategies must also evolve. This means not only using the latest technology but also thinking strategically about how to protect our automated systems.

In other words, it’s an ongoing journey. It requires staying alert, being innovative, and working together. As automation becomes more ingrained in various industries, robust cybersecurity will be essential to ensure the safety and reliability of these systems.

Nahla Davies
Nahla Davies
Nahla Davies is a software developer and tech writer. Before devoting her work full time to technical writing, she managed—among other intriguing things—to serve as a lead programmer at an Inc. 5,000 experiential branding organization whose clients include Samsung, Time Warner, Netflix, and Sony.

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