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Operational Technology Threats in Automotive: What You Need to Know

When it comes to automotive manufacturing, industrial control systems (ICS) may be the weak link inviting new types of attacks. Here’s what you need to know.

Auto manufacturing has become an increasingly popular target today for industrial cyberattacks. Since 2016, the number of annual incidents has increased by 605%, with incidents more than doubling in 2019 alone.1 One reason – advances and changes in OT have opened up new attack vectors and surfaces. 

Advances in OT invite new attacks

Legacy ICS in the automotive industry has proven to be durable, but this durability has become a security risk in today’s connected world. Most of the original operational technology (OT) networks servicing the automotive industry were not built with security in mind, simply because there was little security risk. They consist of equipment originally designed to be “air-gapped,” in other words totally isolated – electromagnetically, electronically and physically – from all networks, including local systems and the internet, especially those that weren't secure. However, the convergence of IT and OT, combined with the rapid adoption of IIoT, has yielded new attack vectors that were previously not possible. 

Cybersecurity challenges in auto manufacturing

Several conditions make auto industry ICS vulnerable:

  1. Modern auto assembly lines are connected to IT. Integration between IT and OT systems can create blind spots, which means a breach in one system can create a gateway into the other.
  2. Most car components and parts are made using digital technology.
  3. Many vehicle components are digitally manufactured outside the assembly plant by third-party manufacturers. This extends vulnerability beyond the assembly plant to all manufacturing facilities and the plants of all supply chain partners. They are susceptible to the same risks as the main auto manufacturing plant.
  4. Connected cars are always connected – and thus always vulnerable to attacks, making them potential targets even after the manufacturing process is completed.
  5. Assembly operations are turned over every model year, exposing them to new security threats.
  6. Auto manufacturing requires constant uptime. It’s estimated that 1 minute of downtime costs automotive manufacturers $22,000 per minute or $1.3 million per hour. Some estimates run as high as $50,000 per minute.2

Mitigate core risks through full OT visibility, security and control 

Full visibility

To mitigate OT risks, you need full visibility into all the operational assets that control sourcing, fabrication and assembly processes. Deep knowledge of all types of devices in the OT network – including patch levels, firmware versions and backplane information – is essential. Also, account for dormant devices not communicating regularly over the network. You can do this at your organization’s main location via an on-premises physical device. 

Be sure to establish OT security at all sites, so that remote locations have the same mitigation as the main campus. If sites are too small or remote to accommodate additional gear, consider deploying a cloud-based solution. In addition, live feeds can identify new security threats and enable a real-time OT security posture.

Vulnerability prioritization and control 

Due to the strict production schedule and cost of downtime in automotive manufacturing, it’s difficult to stop operations to apply patches when a vulnerability is discovered or even to perform routine maintenance. To ensure vulnerability windows are closed in a timely manner, an effective OT security system should perform regular inventory checks that provide details, including device model numbers, firmware versions, vulnerabilities, patch levels and more. These checks will pinpoint the devices that require maintenance when the plant can be idled and allow for targeted and prioritized operations procedures in the meantime.

Effective security and threat detection

When it comes to threat detection, the most effective process combines multiple detection engines:

  • Traffic mapping and traffic visualization: Identifies policy violations and alerts on instances in which a given policy (e.g., blacklisting, whitelisting) is violated.
  • Anomaly detection: Pinpoints traffic patterns outside regular network operation.
  • Signature-based detection: Identifies published threats and leverages crowd-sourced alerts of previously unidentified threats.

IT/OT cybersecurity solutions can help you mitigate risk

Want to learn more about how you can overcome OT security challenges? Tenable.ot (powered by Indegy) can help by providing capabilities such as:

  • A multidetection engine that employs both passive detection and patented active querying to detect any threat to your network – on your main campus and remote sites
  • An up-to-date and detailed inventory list that helps identify, manage and prioritize vulnerabilities and plan maintenance schedules
  • Sitewide audit information that can speed incident response and demonstrate proactive regulatory compliance

Download the solution brief

1. 2020 Automotive Cybersecurity Report, Upstream Security
2. True Cost of Factory Downtime: How Downtime Affects Productivity,” Simutech, 2019

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