Real-time monitoring for industrial controls

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A new platform by startup Claroty examines network traffic using an inspection engine designed for critical infrastructure's IC systems.

Six years after the Stuxnet worm was first revealed to the world, the ramifications of that attack are still being felt. With industrial control (IC) cybersecurity a rising concern, startup company Claroty has introduced a complete platform approach to providing that security.

Attacks had been made on IC facilities before Stuxnet, but the sophistication and reach of that particular piece of malware shocked the IC industry and spurred similar efforts by hackers. Several varieties of Stuxnet have sprung up over the past few years, along with other IC-specific malware that have borrowed aspects of  Stuxnet in their design.

In a report issued in July, Kaspersky Lab said a scan of systems around the world had found nearly all of the IC systems it surveyed that were connected to the internet suffered from remotely exploitable vulnerabilities and were subject to man-in-the-middle attacks. In 2010, the year of Stuxnet, just nine IC system vulnerabilities were discovered. By 2015, that had risen to just under 200.

At one time, that might not have mattered, said Patrick McBride, chief marketing officer of Claroty. IC environments were relatively closed and didn’t require the kind of connectivity the internet offered. Over the years, however, there are more requirements  to connect them with each other and also with outside vendors and other outfits the IC-based entities do business with.

However, IC environments were never designed with security in mind, so they are inherently insecure and vulnerable in the internet age. Traditional IT-based cybersecurity tools don’t work well in environments that use completely different, multivendor IC protocols.

They also take different approaches to risk:  IC environments are built for reliability and resilience, whereas “regular” IT security prioritizes identity and privacy.

What is similar, McBride said, is that people who have to safeguard both types of systems don’t have the visibility they need into those environments, and they often find them much different than they expected.

“The OT [operational technology] environments are now multivendor, and it turns out that the old engineering drawings that are supposed to detail them don’t match what’s actually there today,” he said.

Claroty’s platform provides real-time monitoring throughout all layers of the IC environment, according to company founder and CEO Amir Zilberstein. It uses a passive approach to examine traffic at all of the layers using an IC-specific inspection engine that  allows it to cover everything without performing in-line queries that could overload the network.

By tracking everything that affects the network, the Claroty platform can also follow all the stages of the more sophisticated advanced persistent threats that are now being launched against IC environments. These are very patient and long-lasting attacks that, once they penetrate networks, can spend days, weeks or even months slowly probing systems for weaknesses before exfiltrating data or sabotaging operations.

“We built a very accurate model of the behavior of the environment,” Zilberstein said. “We can tell what’s normal and what isn’t, what’s risky behavior, what’s new behavior that needs to be tracked and so on.”

It helps, McBride said, that OT networks tend not to have the volume of traffic that regular enterprise networks carry, and in that sense they are more stable over time. It’s easier to pinpoint new events because OT networks tend not to have new access points being created every few seconds as happens in regular IT networks, particularly with the spread of mobile connections these days.

The Claroty solution is completely plug-and-play, straight out of the package. On the user side, administrators may have to configure a switched port analyzer that the solutions can use. Once it gets access to that port, McBride said, “then it’s off and running without needing any further intervention.”

Unlike other companies, he said, Claroty is building a true platform that can be expanded and built out over time. Future modules will also be optimized for the OT environment, such as one that will secure remote access by outside vendors.

The second independent spinoff of Israeli cybersecurity venture company Team8, Claroty already boasts Fortune 500 companies among its paying customer base. With an initial funding of $32 million, it claims to be the best funded security provider in the IC/OT sector, with support from entities such as Bessemer Venture partners, Mitsui and Innovation Endeavors, an early-stage investment company solely backed by Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive vice chairman.

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