Secure Remote Access (SRA) is a mission-critical component for asset owners and their Operational Technology (OT) and Industrial Control Systems (ICS). Allowing remote operators, the ability to access industrial equipment or workstations consequently leads to seamless continuation of operations and even decreased production downtime. However, beyond its operational benefits, secure remote access, when implemented with the right security controls, plays a strong role in proactively mitigating cyber-risks associated with remote access to critical infrastructure.
One of the main causes of cyberattacks in Operational Technology (OT) is unauthorized remote access due to a lack of security and access controls. Unauthorized access to OT and ICS poses serious risks as they represent crucial elements in critical infrastructure such as power plants, water treatment facilities, or manufacturing plants, leading to various outcomes:
Disrupted operations: unauthorised access in OT can potentially stop manufacturing operations, causing downtime and affecting delivery of services.
Safety risks: by manipulating control systems, OT and ICS personnel, the surrounding environments and critical infrastructure can be in a significant risk of safety.
Loss of intellectual property: unauthorized access can result in the theft or manipulation of sensitive data and intellectual property related to OT/ICS processes.
Here are 3 essential features that can reduce the risk of unauthorized access to your OT and ICS environments:
Single Sign-On (SSO)
Single Sign-On is a user authentication process that allows individuals to access multiple applications and services with a single set of credentials, instead of using numerous usernames and passwords. Users tend to reuse passwords, write them down, and choose user-friendly passwords which makes them easy to crack. SSO overcomes this danger by eliminating the need for users to remember passwords and adding more authentication factors. One of the reasons users reuse passwords is because remembering and re-entering unique passwords is annoying and time-consuming.
With streamlined access to applications, employees can focus on their tasks rather than struggling with login issues. The resulting boost in productivity can lead to benefits for organizations of all sizes. Moreover, SSO is not limited to a specific type of application or platform. It can be seamlessly integrated with a wide range of applications, including on-premises and cloud-based solutions. This flexibility ensures that organizations can leverage their existing technology investments while adapting to new tools and services.
Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
In today’s threat landscape, where cyberattacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated, MFA is a critical tool for organizations and individuals to protect themselves against unauthorized access and data breaches. MFA is particularly beneficial for remote access scenarios, such as accessing corporate networks or cloud-based services from outside the organization’s physical premises. It ensures that only authorized users can connect, even if they are accessing resources from untrusted locations or devices. MFA significantly strengthens security by requiring users to provide multiple factors for authentication. Even if one factor (e.g., a password) is compromised, an attacker would still need the additional factors to gain access, making unauthorized access more challenging.
Principles of least privilege is an information security concept which restricts access and permissions to only the minimum necessary for users, systems, and processes to perform their required tasks. One of the benefits of applying the principle of least privilege in OT environments is a reduced attack surface and minimized insider threats. Even within trusted environments, insider threats can pose significant risks. In practice, least privileged access allows SRA administrators to create time-limited access flows to the specific assets that employees and contractors need to perform a remote task, reducing the risk of intentional or unintentional harm caused by individuals with excessive privileges.
Least privileged access features can help achieve compliance as many industries and sectors have specific regulations and compliance requirements. In fact, the most popular industrial cybersecurity frameworks such as NIST, IEC 62443, and NERC CIP mandate the implementation of the principle of least privilege. Adhering to these standards is critical for avoiding penalties and ensuring the security of critical infrastructure.
Role-based access control is a framework that manages access and permissions for end-users and administrators based on their role within a system. In a secure remote access solution for OT environments, identity and access should not only involve management of users, but also operational equipment and networks. Carefully implemented, role-based access should aim to assign users to equipment or networks in a way that when granted access, users can only access what they have been permitted.
Asset owners with dozens of different vendors and hundreds of network administrators and remote end-users can centrally administer global rules for role-based access and reduce remote access complexity by grouping operational equipment, end-users, and their roles. Simplifying administrative activities by creating predefined global roles can lower costs and reduce the risk of assigning users to assets they shouldn’t have access to.
Adopting these features in OT (Operational Technology) and ICS (Industrial Control Systems) environments significantly enhances the management of remote access and reduces the risk of unauthorized access to critical assets. Using the Secomea platform, asset owners can centrally control remote access to their operational environments. Our least-privileged access features and authentication methods work effectively to counter risks from unauthorized access. Additionally, administrators have the ability to set rules and permissions based on specific asset levels and geographic locations, ensuring smooth remote operations for any industrial equipment.