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Common Misconceptions About Industrial Network Security: Types & Examples

Instructor: Haylee Liska

Haylee has a Master's Degree in Computer Science (CS) and has experience teaching as a CS Graduate Assistant.

Network security is an important element of network design to keep your business and data safe. However, people often have misconceptions about network security. This lesson will discuss some of these misconceptions and how it impacts security.

Industrial Network Security Misconceptions

Common misconceptions surrounding industrial network security often spark from a false sense of security. Feelings of being secure enough, blissful ignorance, or assumptions that something bad could never happen due to some reason all feed into the misconceptions people have towards network security. Having delusions of being more secure than necessary can lead to security gaps, revealing stark vulnerabilities and network weaknesses.

Security Through Obscurity

One security method is called Security Through Obscurity (STO). STO is implemented by enforcing confidentiality of the network's architecture. The architecture is kept secret and only divulged to key stakeholders who absolutely need to know the design of the system, such as integral developers, designers, and product owners. Essentially keeping information on a need to know basis, a common misconception of STO is that it prevents system security leaks. However, STO can introduce large network vulnerabilities.

Imagine you have an unlocked chest full of treasure. You decide to bury the chest in some remote location for protection. In order to never forget where your treasure is, you make a treasure map. You may keep the map to yourself, or may decide to show others after swearing secrecy to never leak where the chest can be found. This may sound like a great plan to protect your treasure, but there are a few issues. First, people you have shown the map to could be malicious. They may (maliciously or inadvertently) release the location of the chest to outside sources. Secondly, there is nothing really protecting the chest. There is no lock preventing someone who happens upon it from stealing the goods inside.

Now picture the treasure chest as the architecture of a network. Instead of a treasure map, you have confidentiality agreements. If someone were to break their confidentiality and tell an outside source or their next employer, the network's security will be exposed. It could also be the case that an outside source may break in and locate the architectural design. Without any other security measures, there is nothing preventing the information from being released.

Air Gapping

Another common misconception is that physically isolating a system from any other network prevents the system from being infiltrated. This security method is commonly referred to as Air Gapping, and is primarily used in the hopes of preventing malware from infecting a system via the internet. The idea is that since a system is physically disconnected from the internet and/or other machines, there is an impenetrable gap of air protecting the system from malicious intent. However, the main issue with this method lies in the all too heavy focus of preventing external attacks.

Imagine that you have an air-gapped system. You have physically disconnected this system from the internet and unplugged the cables connecting it to your other machines. The only means of transferring data to and from this system is by physically inserting a portable storage device, such as a USB, into the system. Now picture yourself on your work computer browsing through some emails and unknowingly infecting your computer with malware from a phishing email. Unbeknownst to you, your computer now has an infected USB drive. There is some data you need to transfer to your air-gapped system, so you plug a USB into your computer, move some files over to the device (along with the malware), and insert the USB into your air-gapped system. At this point, the malware can infect the air-gapped system, steal the data held within, and be transported back to the infected computer where it could then be uploaded to an outside server.

Although the air-gapped system is physically disconnected from the internet and possibly other machines, it can still become infected. Malicious intent or blissful ignorance from a single USB equipped employee can lead to the downfall of the system's security.

Additionally, more advanced techniques to infiltrate air-gapped systems are being created continuously. Sound can be used to attack an isolated system, either by the transmission of sonic and ultrasonic sounds through a computer speaker or via radio transmissions from various computers and portable storage devices to an awaiting receiver.

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