Our day-to-day lives rely on the security and resilience of our critical infrastructure: the power we use, the water we drink, the oil and gas that drives industry, and the communication systems that connect us. Securing these essential services is paramount, as their disruption could lead to catastrophic outcomes.
Traditionally, one of the most common network security measures has been air gapping – isolating critical systems from unsecured networks to prevent unauthorized access. Many believe their control systems exist and function entirely without physical connections to the outside world, but this generally is a misapprehension. Few modern networks function this way, and even if they did, is this method foolproof? Does the air gap really exist?
Air gapping, while effective against remote cyber-attacks, is not immune to all threats. The rise of sophisticated malware designed to infiltrate isolated systems has exposed the weaknesses of air gapping.
Stuxnet, discovered in 2010, was a sobering wake-up call. A highly complex worm, it targeted Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities, infecting over 20,000 computers, degrading around 900 centrifuges, and highlighting a stark reality: even air-gapped systems are vulnerable.
Similarly, the discovery of Project Sauron malware demonstrated that air-gapped systems are not impervious. Its stealthy infiltration of secure networks and subsequent data exfiltration underscored the necessity for more robust security measures.
Ramsay malware took this a step further by jumping the air gap and extracting sensitive documents, proving that determined attackers have the tools to circumvent traditional security protocols.
Air gapping is clearly not enough to secure our critical infrastructure — as Stuxnet, Sauron, and Ramsay so clearly proved.
While it was traditionally revered for its simplicity, air gapping is not without significant challenges and vulnerabilities, which can ultimately compromise the integrity of a supposedly secure system.
The very strength of an air-gapped system—its isolation—also becomes a source of its weakness. Regular maintenance and updates, which are vital to the security and functionality of computer systems, can become a logistical challenge. Patches and updates must be manually transported and installed, a process that introduces delays and potential for human error. Moreover, the outdated software, a common characteristic in isolated systems, can become a liability, as it may contain unaddressed vulnerabilities that can be exploited if malware were to be introduced into the system.
Even in an air-gapped system, data sometimes needs to move laterally within the same network. This creates a crucial vulnerability that malware can exploit, allowing them to migrate from one system to the next in the absence of robust security controls to prevent it.
Air-gapped systems can foster a false sense of security among their operators. The belief that these systems are immune to cyber threats can lead to complacency, making it less likely for rigorous security practices to be followed consistently. This mindset, combined with the operational challenges of maintaining an air-gapped system, can lead to security protocols being overlooked or bypassed, potentially opening the door to the very threats the air gap was intended to prevent.
In practice, maintaining a strict air gap can be difficult, especially in complex environments where data exchange between networks is a frequent necessity. The temptation or operational need to connect an air-gapped system, even momentarily, to an external network for convenience or necessity, can be high. Each such instance represents a potential breach in the system's defenses, an opportunity for malware to enter or for sensitive information to escape.
Given the limitations of air gapping, network cloaking emerges as a superior alternative for securing our critical infrastructure.
Network cloaking, as its name suggests, hides or “cloaks” the network to make it invisible to unauthorized users, effectively concealing its existence and offering several advantages over traditional air gapping:
It maintains network functionality and allows for remote management and updates, which air gapping does not permit due to its reliance on physical separation.
The cloaking mechanisms can be customized to an organization's specific security needs and can be scaled accordingly as threats change.
By reducing the need for manual data transfers, network cloaking lessens the risk of breaches caused by human mistakes, a vulnerability inherent in air gapped systems.
Rather than reacting to breaches, network cloaking establishes a proactive defense strategy, continually updating and refining security protocols.
Network cloaking can be more cost-effective by decreasing the need for physical interventions and enabling secure, remote maintenance.
The strategic advantage of network cloaking for critical infrastructure is clear. It eliminates the vulnerabilities associated with physical data transfer inherent in air gapped systems and provides comprehensive protection against both remote and physical attacks.
To maximize security, network cloaking should be integrated with other security measures. This is why BlastWave’s BlastShield solution takes a three-pronged approach to securing our critical infrastructure: network cloaking, network segmentation, and secure remote access.
BlastShield's technology renders network devices invisible to unauthorized entities, obscuring the system's public-facing IP addresses, substantially reducing the attack surface, and protecting against automated attacks and bots.
BlastShield simplifies network security by segmenting networks into controlled zones, eliminating complex firewall rules and curtailing the chance of an attacker moving laterally within the network.
BlastShield ensures secure remote access by enforcing strict pre-connection authentication, allowing only verified users and devices to access network resources, thus bolstering the network against unauthorized entry.
The journey from traditional air gapping to network cloaking represents the evolution of cybersecurity in the face of advanced malware. It's a call to action for decision makers and security professionals to re-evaluate their security measures to protect critical infrastructure.
To truly appreciate the power and potential of BlastShield's innovative approach to cybersecurity, we invite you to experience it firsthand. Schedule a demo today to see how BlastShield can get your “shields ready” against the threats of tomorrow.
Experience the simplicity of BlastShield to secure your OT network and legacy infrastructure.