7 questions for industrial wireless security

What is the No. 1 concern when it comes to wireless solutions in the industrial world? While the answer might be debatable, it always comes down to these two questions – is it reliable enough and can I secure it?

By Heather MacKenzie December 1, 2014

At the Belden industrial Ethernet infrastructure design seminar, Jeff Caldwell, chief architect for security for Belden, posed this question to the audience—is wireless more secure or less secure than a wired network?

When you start thinking about it and boiling it down to the basics, consider these points:

  • Passwords generally aren’t needed to plug a wired PC into a router and access a network, but they are required to connect to a wireless network. You can lay down a hub, use Wireshark, or see all of your data streams.
  • This is not the case with wireless, even if you’ve only set up the most basic and commonplace security, which 95% of the population does.

You can have the best security strategy in the world—wired or wireless—but things change. Researchers continually identify new threats. Automation equipment vulnerabilities are frequently revealed and unintentional cyber security incidents happen regularly. Therefore, an important part of your security strategy must be setting up systems to monitor your network that automatically alerts you to unusual activity. In addition, establishing a process for regularly updating the system, software, and plan is critical.

Shared medium or not, wireless can be secure. Ask these seven questions when planning a WLAN network:

  • Have I protected the network devices?
  • Have I set up protection for my network from misconfigured devices and from bad behavior?
  • Are the authenticated, legitimate wireless users or devices safeguarded from other users or equipment?
  • If using a WLAN controller, have I protected the network between the access point and controller?
  • Have I set myself up to recognize Denial of Service (DoS) potentials, air interference, or when other "bad stuff" might be happening?
  • Do I have legacy devices? Have I handled them properly so I don’t open up accidental vulnerabilities?
  • Are there physical considerations around the wireless devices themselves or the wireless coverage areas I need to address?

If you’re not sure how to address some of these questions, today’s industrial wireless equipment has numerous security features built-in. It’s often just a question of making sure you use them.

Heather MacKenzie is with Tofino Security, a Belden company. This content originally appeared on the ISSSource website. Edited by Joy Chang, Digital Project Manager, CFE Media, jchang@cfemedia.com 

Author Bio: Heather MacKenzie is an ICS cybersecurity specialist at Nozomi Networks. She has worked in industrial cybersecurity since 2008. She helps OT/IT teams responsible for industrial control networks understand cyber risks.