Industry 4.0: Vulnerabilities and security solutions at the Edge

by Bita Taghavi-Stevens

The Edge is nigh. 

In fact Gartner predicts that by 2025, 75% of businesses will create and process their data at the edge of the network. And why wouldn’t they? 

Edge computing breaks the previous constraints of the internet. It reduces latency, which in turn reduces data redundancy and the need for extra bandwidth – and all of this reduces operational costs. It’s a game-changer, the next frontier in Industry 4.0.

There’s just one catch. Edge technology widens the surface for cyber attacks, making your data and business significantly more vulnerable.

In a world where cybersecurity attacks are growing rapidly in number and sophistication, edge computing has the potential to take this already hostile landscape to a whole new level of threat. 

Without the right security measures in place, it won’t be a question of if you’re attacked, rather when.

So how do you optimise security at the edge? For CISOs and CIOs it’s a huge challenge. Here’s everything you need to know…

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What is the Edge?

On your premises, in a designated facility or in the cloud, every network has a data centre. Edge computing is computing which takes place at the edge of this network, bringing processing closer to the point of action. 

Naturally, the main benefit – and number one reason organisations are moving to the edge – is speed. Edge computing reduces delays in data communications over the network, giving you unprecedented reliability and efficiency.

Apply this to any sector – manufacturing, agriculture, energy, healthcare, telecoms – and it’s easy to see the seismic power of the edge. 

 

Drivers of edge technology

Whether it’s sensors continuously taking the temperature of vaccines in production, devices predicting that an IoT robot is about to malfunction, or pressure sensors monitoring the safety of gas facilities – edge technology is already transforming businesses, improving everything from safety to productivity,

As mobile and IoT applications grow exponentially, the need for highly accessible, low latency, scalable tech capable of processing colossal amounts of data, has never been greater. The edge provides the solution to this problem.

 

Vulnerabilities at the Edge

Edge computing drives up scale and distribution. This creates significant differences between the requirements of non-edge security and edge security. 

The edge enables businesses to power significantly more applications, devices, and connections than they do currently. Herein lies one of the major security issues: 

The more edge devices you have, the more points of entry you have for DDoS (Distributed Denial-of-Service) and other attacks.

This widening of scale and exposure presents cyber criminals with a playground of opportunities. When your data is beyond the reach of your onsite security stack, even the smallest security oversights or mistakes can have catastrophic consequences.

There are three core areas of vulnerability at the edge:

 

  • Edge device vulnerability: Many edge devices have no User Interface (UI), presenting serious challenges for IT visibility. They’re often small, which means they can be easily stolen. And without ongoing, automated user authentication, the risk of DDoS and other data breaches is significantly increased.

 

  • Cloud vulnerability: By definition, edge computing moves storage and processing closer to the source of data. This movement of data from the edge to the cloud— and particularly from the cloud back to the edge—makes it highly vulnerable to attacks.

 

  • Network edge vulnerability: With edge technology, users need direct internet access to cloud and SaaS applications. Your employees will certainly get optimised connectivity – but you’ll also increase the risk of malicious activity accessing your corporate network.


 

Security at the Edge

If you want to process your data at the edge, you have to adjust your security practices and controls to fit this new paradigm.

Copying and pasting the measures that have worked to secure your centralised data is a high-stakes game – one that you’ll almost certainly lose. 

For example, using current strategies like DiD (Depth in Defence) to layer your defences will give you some protection, but it’s unlikely to be enough. The edge requires more dynamic controls that can adapt to different environments without centralised monitoring.

The good news is that edge security is adapting at a rapid pace. Although a relatively nascent technology, there are clear models and strategies to provide businesses with robust security.


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What does good edge security look like?

Edge security consists of three fundamental aspects: securing edge devices, cloud security, and securing edge networks. 

Here’s what you should be considering:

 

  • Secure perimeter - Firewalls, encrypted tunnels and access control (such as certificate-based authentication) serve to secure access to edge resources
  • Secure edge devices - Apps and edge devices need to be secured beyond the network layer. Categorise, tag and identify all edge devices and encrypt all communication between devices (at rest and in transit)
  • Patch cycles - Automated patching keeps devices updated and reduces the potential for surface attacks
  • Early threat detection - Taking data to the edge of your network naturally requires threat detection technology that can identify a breach as early as possible.
  • Threat analytics - Traffic inspection, threat modelling, attack surface visibility, and network topology will help you identify unusual behaviour and new vulnerabilities.
  • Automation - This facilitates dealing with threats in real-time to prevent or minimise an attack. For example: automation can route suspicious traffic to a scrubbing centre within milliseconds.
  • Visibility - The entire network must be visible to administrators


 

Implementing edge security

Currently, the most effective way to augment your edge security is with a SASE (Secure Access Surface Edge) approach. 

Gartner first coined the phrase SASE back in 2019, and, at the time, predicted that almost 50% of organisations would be using SASE strategies by 2024; a figure that has already been exceeded. 

 

What’s the case for SASE?


SASE combines SD-WAN capabilities with extensive network security functions. Effectively, it's a convergence of network-as-a-service with network-security-as-a-service, all delivered from a single cloud platform.

With edge computing, users are your new network perimeter; your data and processing are exposed to the outside world. The SASE framework mitigates this by ensuring secure access regardless of device location. It also facilitates bringing networking and security back to the cloud where your applications and data are located.

SASE architecture is comprised of four core security components:

 

  • Firewall as a Service (FWaaS). Referring to firewalls delivered from the cloud as a service, FWaaS is a set of security capabilities that includes URL filtering, intrusion prevention, and uniform policy management across all network traffic. FWaaS protects cloud-based platforms, infrastructure, and applications from cyber attacks.

 

  • Zero-Trust Network Access (ZTNA) by requiring real-time verification of every user and device to all protected applications, ZTNA locks down internal data from public view. This plays a key role in reducing the chances of a data breach.

 

  • Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) CASBs perform a number of security functions. These include revealing shadow IT (unauthorised corporate systems), securing confidential data through data loss prevention (DLP) and access control, and ensuring compliance with data privacy regulations.

 

  • Secure Web Gateways (SWG) SWGs play a critical role in securing remote workforces. One of the reasons for this is that they can be deployed anywhere. They prevent cyber attacks and data breaches by blocking unauthorised users, filtering unwanted content from web traffic, and enforcing company security policies. 

 

One of the biggest advantages of SASE is that it’s a single-point security solution delivered as one cloud-based service. This means your implementation is streamlined; you interact with fewer vendors and spend less time, money, and internal resources configuring physical infrastructure.
 

How can you implement SASE?

Many businesses take a selective approach to SASE. In fact, you may have already adopted aspects of SASE without realising it. 

While it’s crucial that you have edge security measures in place, it’s important to remember that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. 

There are some key steps you can take towards implementing a comprehensive SASE model. These fundamentals will give you a solid foundation to build on as you develop your edge security strategy:

 

  • Securing remote workforces
  • Ensuring brand offices are behind a cloud perimeter
  • Moving DDoS protection to edge
  • Placing self-hosting applications in the cloud
  • Replacing all security appliances with unified, cloud-native policy enforcement


 

Whether you implement a SASE strategy or not, one thing is certain: moving your data to the edge requires extremely careful security considerations. The only way to secure your devices, cloud and networks is with proactive, integrated measures from the very start.
 

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