Industrial Network Cybersecurity

Strengthen Your Industrial Network Cybersecurity with Vendor Access Management

Strong industrial network cybersecurity is more important (and more mandated) than ever. As the sophistication of cyber-attacks increases, understanding how to protect your critical infrastructure systems—energy production, water, gas, and other vital systems—has become imperative. In this article, we’ll arm you with the knowledge you need to understand and secure the vulnerabilities of your third-party vendors to reduce the cyber risk to your industrial control systems.

Securing industrial operational networks has become a serious business in recent years. 

And rightfully so. 

One needs to only remember the now-infamous Colonial Pipeline cyberattack on May 7, 2021, which led to 5,500 miles of pipeline – 45% of the United States’ east coast’s fuel supplies – being shut down for nearly a week

The impact cannot be overstated. About 12,000 gas stations were directly affected by the shutdown until operations were restored on May 13, 2021. 

This is a high-profile example, but unfortunately not an unusual one. Cyber attacks and attempted breaches on industrial facilities have increased exponentially over the past 5 years. They are predicted to continue on the same trajectory for facilities that fail to update their security measures.

There’s no doubt the threat level and danger are high for industrial networks. But thankfully there are measures you can take to mitigate the risks and better protect your systems. 

If you rely on third-party vendors or other external users, Vendor Access Management is something you should consider implementing to secure your critical industrial systems against threats like the one that threatened Colonial Pipeline.

What is Vendor Access Management?

Vendor Access Management is a specific application of a broader concept called Privileged Access Management, the strategy and processes for controlling, managing, and monitoring privileged access to essential systems, networks, and data. It ensures that only authorized individuals have access to your sensitive resources, significantly reducing the risk of unauthorized access and potential data breaches.

What is a Privileged User? 
Privileged users refer to users who have been granted special permissions or elevated access rights within a system or network. These users typically include system administrators, IT staff, executives, third-party vendors or contractors, and automated processes or applications.

In the context of vendor access, Privileged Access Management empowers these external users with the ability to securely access an organization’s resources while extending robust cybersecurity measures to all vendor interactions with the enterprise, going beyond traditional perimeter defenses.

By implementing Vendor Access Management, the Principle of Least Privilege is enforced for vendor remote access. Additionally, this approach typically incorporates various Zero Trust controls for vendor access, such as continuous authentication, just-in-time access provisioning, and behavioral session monitoring and management.

How Vendor Access Management Improves Industrial Network Cybersecurity

Vendor Privileged Access Management plays a crucial role in enhancing industrial network cybersecurity by providing control and oversight over the privileged access granted to vendors or third-party entities. It helps mitigate the risks associated with providing vendor access to critical systems and infrastructure, ensuring the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of industrial networks. 

Here’s how it can improve industrial network cybersecurity:

Granular Access Control

Vendor Privileged Access Management enables organizations to define and enforce granular access controls for vendors. It ensures that vendors have only the necessary access privileges required to perform their specific tasks and limits their access to sensitive systems or data. By minimizing unnecessary privileges, the attack surface is reduced, lowering the risk of unauthorized access or malicious activities.

Secure Remote Access

Industrial control systems often require vendors to access critical systems remotely for maintenance, troubleshooting, or support purposes. Vendor Privileged Access Management provides secure remote access mechanisms, especially when used in tandem with a Zero Trust Architecture, that authenticates and authorizes vendor connections. It ensures that all remote access sessions are encrypted, logged, and audited to prevent unauthorized access and so you can keep a finger on the pulse of any suspicious activities.

Strong Authentication and Authorization

Vendor Privileged Access Management enforces strong authentication methods, like multi-factor authentication. This requires vendors to provide multiple proofs of identity before being granted access. Additionally, it verifies vendor credentials and authorizations against predefined policies and access rules, preventing unauthorized vendors from accessing critical systems or resources without permission. 

Monitoring and Auditing

Continuous monitoring and auditing of vendor activities within industrial networks provide real-time visibility into vendor sessions. This allows organizations to track what actions vendors are taking, commands executed, and the changes they make. If any unusual or suspicious behavior is detected, you can take immediate action to mitigate any potential threats.

At its core, Vendor Privileged Access Management strengthens industrial network cybersecurity by providing controlled, monitored, and audited access for vendors. It reduces the risk of unauthorized access, insider threats, and potential disruptions caused by vendors while ensuring the integrity and availability of critical systems and data.

Vendor Privileged Access Management Best Practices for Industrial Systems

Develop Comprehensive Vendor Access Policies

It’s important to clearly outline the rules, responsibilities, and acceptable use of privileged access. These policies should define the scope of access, authentication requirements, session recording, and any other relevant guidelines.

Apply the Principle of Least Privilege

Use the Principle of Least Privilege to grant vendors only the minimum privileges necessary to perform their specific tasks. Avoid granting excessive access rights that could increase the attack surface and potential risks.

Empower Your Vendors with Simple, Secure Remote Access

Utilize modern secure remote access mechanisms instead of deprecated approaches like VPNs or Teamviewer. These connections should be encrypted, require strong authentication, and be monitored and continuously auditable.

Enforce Multi-Factor Authentication

Multi-Factor Authentication is one of your best tools for reducing cyber risks, and for vendors, it’s no different. We strongly recommend enforcing multi-factor authentication for vendor access to ensure strong authentication. You must avoid any new usernames or passwords as the risk of shared credentials being compromised is not a risk you should take. Agilicus’ Zero Trust platform enables your vendors to use their existing identity provider and means of logging in so you don’t have any credentials floating around that you aren’t aware of. Our solution also allows you to enforce multi-factor authentication, even on non–participating systems (you can learn more about that here).

Continuous Monitoring and Auditing

Implementing real-time monitoring and auditing capabilities allows you to track vendor activities as part of your Governance, Risk Management, and Compliance strategy. Taking advantage of this allows you to monitor sessions, commands executed, and changes made by vendors within the industrial network. This helps detect any suspicious behavior, anomalies, or security incidents promptly so you can respond immediately. 

Strengthen Your Industrial Network Cybersecurity with Agilicus

At Agilicus, we know how hard it important it is to implement Vendor Privileged Access Management without disrupting vital business operations. That’s why we’ve streamlined vendor management to strengthen your cybersecurity without any downtime or network changes. Learn more about what we do and why our vendor access management solution is a no-brainer for your organization.

Or check out this recent webinar our CEO, Don Bowman, recently ran for an in-depth look into how our platform solves vendor access for industrial networks.