The advent of smart building technology has brought about numerous benefits such as increased efficiency, improved comfort, and reduced energy consumption. However, the adoption of these technologies also comes with significant risks, including private data leaks, operational outages, and associated reputational damage. These risks have been amplified by the increasing complexity of smart building systems, and the growing number of connected devices and vendors in the ecosystem. In this article, we will cover the six best ways to secure smart building technology and why they are important.
The growing risk of smart building technology
The global smart building market is projected to grow from $72.6 billion in 2021 to $121.6 billion by 2026, driven by factors such as the increasing need for energy-efficient buildings, the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), and the growing focus on reducing operational costs. However, as the number of connected devices in smart buildings increases, so does the risk of cyberattacks. According to a report by IBM, the average cost of a data breach in the United States is $8.64 million. Additionally, smart building technologies are often critical to building operations, and an operational outage can result in significant financial losses and reputational damage.
Most building owners and operators are aware of the risks, but many make the mistake of thinking that operational technology (OT) is like information technology (IT) and trying to use their IT tools and processes for OT security. OT has a unique set of use cases, protocols, and systems that make it a challenge to secure effectively. Another common oversight is that teams accountable for OT think their responsibility is the physical building, but with the adoption of SaaS solutions and so many operational systems moving to the cloud, teams need to consider the cloud environment as a major component of OT.
The best ways to protect your OT systems is to implement a zero-trust architecture, encrypt all traffic, isolate data from building to cloud, use a book-ended architecture when connecting to the cloud, eliminate VPNs and screen-sharing tools, and use a secure containerized environment for smart building applications.
Employ Zero-trust architecture
Smart buildings rely on a multitude of interconnected systems, devices, and sensors to create energy savings and operational savings. For example, lowering lighting and HVAC airflow based on building occupancy saves considerable money, but requires data to be shared freely between lighting, HVAC, and occupancy sensor networks. This connectivity, often coupled with the need for remote access and internet connectivity, makes smart buildings vulnerable to attacks from inside and outside.
This is where zero-trust architecture comes in. It is a security model that requires strict identity verification for every user and device attempting to access the building’s network, applications, and data. In a zero-trust architecture, all devices and users are considered untrusted until proven otherwise, which means that access to any part of the system is granted on a case-by-case basis and only after verifying the user’s identity and device security posture.
Implementing a zero-trust architecture is critical for securing smart building technology as it helps to mitigate the risks associated with unauthorized access, compromised devices, and insider threats. By adopting a zero-trust model, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of cyberattacks, safeguard their assets, and protect sensitive data. However, adopting a zero-trust architecture means changing a lot of user behavior, such as limiting on-site and remote access for vendors.
Encrypt all traffic
A smart building is designed to collect, process, and analyze a vast amount of data related to the building’s operations, such as energy consumption, temperature, lighting, and occupancy. This data is often transmitted over the internet, which makes it vulnerable to interception, eavesdropping, and tampering by bad actors.
If data traffic to and from a smart building is not encrypted, it can be intercepted by malicious actors who can then use it to gain unauthorized access to the building’s systems or steal valuable information. Hackers can also use this data to launch targeted attacks on the building’s occupants, compromise their privacy, and disrupt the building’s operations.
By encrypting all traffic to and from a smart building, data is protected by complex algorithms and keys that make it difficult for bad actors to decipher. Encrypted data is also less vulnerable to tampering, which ensures that the information transmitted remains confidential, reliable, and secure.
Isolate data in the building and to the cloud
To reduce the risk of malware and security breaches in smart buildings, it is crucial to ensure that every subsystem, including lighting, HVAC, security, etc., is fully segregated – not just within the building but from building to the cloud. A foundational element of a smart building is a converged network, which simplifies management and the flow of data between systems for more efficient operations. The risk of converged networks is the ability to move laterally across networks, so a breach in one subsystem can affect others. This risk is further compounded when those systems are connected to the internet. If systems are not segmented all the way to the cloud, breaches in one system can affect other systems even if those systems are segmented in the building.
By keeping each subsystem separate in the building and cloud, a breach in one subsystem will not necessarily affect the others. This isolation can help limit the scope of an attack and prevent it from spreading to other parts of the building. Furthermore, by ensuring that every subsystem is isolated, it becomes easier to monitor and detect any suspicious activity in the system.
Using a book-ended architecture with certificates
A book-ended architecture is a security approach that secures the communication channel between two endpoints in a smart building system. This architecture relies on certificates to authenticate both endpoints, ensuring that only authorized devices can communicate with each other. A common mistake for securing a smart building is to only focus on one end of the connection, the building, and not the other end, the cloud-based data lake or SaaS provider.
Book-ended architecture is especially critical in smart buildings because these structures rely on the interconnectedness of their systems to function. A breach in one system can quickly spread to other parts of the building’s network, compromising everything from security cameras to HVAC systems. By implementing book-ended architecture, building owners and managers can ensure that their smart buildings are protected against the latest cyber threats and that the safety and security of their occupants are never compromised.
Eliminate VPNs and screensharing applications
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are a popular tool for IT professionals to access remote systems and troubleshoot issues, but they are not the best option for giving staff and vendors secure access to building systems and Operational Technology (OT) networks. While VPNs create a secure tunnel between the user and the target system, they are not specifically designed for the unique protocols, devices, and network architecture of OT systems. Moreover, VPNs do not have a book-ended architecture so are susceptible to various attacks, such as man-in-the-middle attacks, which can compromise sensitive data.
Similarly, screen-sharing applications built for IT such as TeamViewer also pose security risks to building systems and OT. These applications may require administrative privileges to run, leaving the system vulnerable to malware and other security threats. Furthermore, screen-sharing applications typically provide full access to the target system, which could lead to unintended changes or damage to critical systems.
Another significant risk with VPNs and screensharing applications is the potential for lateral movement within the network. Once an attacker gains access to the VPN or computer with screensharing, they can move laterally through the system, potentially compromising other systems or data. This could be particularly dangerous in the case of critical infrastructure or industrial control systems.
A better alternative to VPNs and screen-sharing applications is to use a secure remote access solution purpose built for operational technology that employs a book-ended architecture and authorizes access at a device-level to limit movement laterally. This makes it more difficult for unauthorized users to gain access to the network, and reduces risk in the case of a breach.
Use containerization to secure and manage edge compute
Smart building applications for uses like optimizing energy and operations typically need to run on-premise for direct low-latency access to HVAC controls and other building systems. To solve this most service providers install a compute device on-premise to run their applications and require that device is connected to building networks and systems, and often connected to the internet as well. These devices create considerable cybersecurity risk because they are unmanaged by IT teams so there is no visibility if there is as data breach and no centralized management of critical patches and updates. Furthermore, most buildings do not have firewalls to monitor and secure east-west network communications so there is no granular control of what building devices can be accessed by these systems.
Fortunately, modern containerization environments such as Docker and Kubernetes provide infrastructure to solve this issue. Instead of installing unmanaged devices, owners and operators can require their service providers run applications as containers on a device owned and managed by the building. This approach gives the service providers the same level of on-premise access they need, but the container environment reduces security risk by providing IT teams centralized visibility, management and control.
Securing smart building technology has become increasingly important as the adoption of these technologies grows. The risks associated with cyberattacks, data breaches, and operational outages are significant, and require a comprehensive security strategy to mitigate, which should include implementing a zero-trust architecture, encrypting all traffic, isolating data in the building and to the cloud, using a book-ended architecture with certificates, and eliminating VPNs and screensharing applications, can significantly reduce the risk of cyberattacks and protect sensitive data. Moreover, using containerization to secure and manage edge compute can further enhance security by providing centralized visibility, management, and control. For those looking to secure their buildings, learn more about how View Secure Edge can implement these best practices.
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