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Securing IoT

  • Sample Chapter is provided courtesy of Cisco Press.
  • Date: Oct 3, 2017.

Chapter Description

In this sample chapter from IoT Fundamentals: Networking Technologies, Protocols, and Use Cases for the Internet of Things, readers will review a brief history of operational technology (OT) security, how it has evolved, and some of the common challenges it faces.

Formal Risk Analysis Structures: OCTAVE and FAIR

Within the industrial environment, there are a number of standards, guidelines, and best practices available to help understand risk and how to mitigate it. IEC 62443 is the most commonly used standard globally across industrial verticals. It consists of a number of parts, including 62443-3-2 for risk assessments, and 62443-3-3 for foundational requirements used to secure the industrial environment from a networking and communications perspective. Also, ISO 27001 is widely used for organizational people, process, and information security management. In addition, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides a series of documents for critical infrastructure, such as the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF). In the utilities domain, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s (NERC’s) Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) has legally binding guidelines for North American utilities, and IEC 62351 is the cybersecurity standard for power utilities.

The key for any industrial environment is that it needs to address security holistically and not just focus on technology. It must include people and processes, and it should include all the vendor ecosystem components that make up a control system.

In this section, we present a brief review of two such risk assessment frameworks:

  • OCTAVE (Operationally Critical Threat, Asset and Vulnerability Evaluation) from the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University

  • FAIR (Factor Analysis of Information Risk) from The Open Group

These two systems work toward establishing a more secure environment but with two different approaches and sets of priorities. Knowledge of the environment is key to determining security risks and plays a key role in driving priorities.


OCTAVE has undergone multiple iterations. The version this section focuses on is OCTAVE Allegro, which is intended to be a lightweight and less burdensome process to implement. Allegro assumes that a robust security team is not on standby or immediately at the ready to initiate a comprehensive security review. This approach and the assumptions it makes are quite appropriate, given that many operational technology areas are similarly lacking in security-focused human assets. Figure 8-5 illustrates the OCTAVE Allegro steps and phases.

The first step of the OCTAVE Allegro methodology is to establish a risk measurement criterion. OCTAVE provides a fairly simple means of doing this with an emphasis on impact, value, and measurement. The point of having a risk measurement criterion is that at any point in the later stages, prioritization can take place against the reference model. (While OCTAVE has more details to contribute, we suggest using the FAIR model, described next, for risk assessment.)

The second step is to develop an information asset profile. This profile is populated with assets, a prioritization of assets, attributes associated with each asset, including owners, custodians, people, explicit security requirements, and technology assets. It is important to stress the importance of process. Certainly, the need to protect information does not disappear, but operational safety and continuity are more critical.

Within this asset profile, process are multiple substages that complete the definition of the assets. Some of these are simply survey and reporting activities, such as identifying the asset and attributes associated with it, such as its owners, custodians, human actors with which it interacts, and the composition of its technology assets. There are, however, judgment-based attributes such as prioritization. Rather than simply assigning an arbitrary ranking, the system calls for a justification of the prioritization. With an understanding of the asset attributes, particularly the technical components, appropriate threat mitigation methods can be applied. With the application of risk assessment, the level of security investment can be aligned with that individual asset.

The third step is to identify information asset containers. Roughly speaking, this is the range of transports and possible locations where the information might reside. This references the compute elements and the networks by which they communicate. However, it can also mean physical manifestations such as hard copy documents or even the people who know the information. Note that the operable target here is information, which includes data from which the information is derived.

In OCTAVE, the emphasis is on the container level rather than the asset level. The value is to reduce potential inhibitors within the container for information operation. In the OT world, the emphasis is on reducing potential inhibitors in the containerized operational space. If there is some attribute of the information that is endemic to it, then the entire container operates with that attribute because the information is the defining element. In some cases this may not be true, even in IT environments. Discrete atomic-level data may become actionable information only if it is seen in the context of the rest of the data. Similarly, operational data taken without knowledge of the rest of the elements may not be of particular value either.

The fourth step is to identify areas of concern. At this point, we depart from a data flow, touch, and attribute focus to one where judgments are made through a mapping of security-related attributes to more business-focused use cases. At this stage, the analyst looks to risk profiles and delves into the previously mentioned risk analysis. It is no longer just facts, but there is also an element of creativity that can factor into the evaluation. History both within and outside the organization can contribute. References to similar operational use cases and incidents of security failures are reasonable associations.

Closely related is the fifth step, where threat scenarios are identified. Threats are broadly (and properly) identified as potential undesirable events. This definition means that results from both malevolent and accidental causes are viable threats. In the context of operational focus, this is a valuable consideration. It is at this point that an explicit identification of actors, motives, and outcomes occurs. These scenarios are described in threat trees to trace the path to undesired outcomes, which, in turn, can be associated with risk metrics.

At the sixth step risks are identified. Within OCTAVE, risk is the possibility of an undesired outcome. This is extended to focus on how the organization is impacted. For more focused analysis, this can be localized, but the potential impact to the organization could extend outside the boundaries of the operation.

The seventh step is risk analysis, with the effort placed on qualitative evaluation of the impacts of the risk. Here the risk measurement criteria defined in the first step are explicitly brought into the process.

Finally, mitigation is applied at the eighth step. There are three outputs or decisions to be taken at this stage. One may be to accept a risk and do nothing, other than document the situation, potential outcomes, and reasons for accepting the risk. The second is to mitigate the risk with whatever control effort is required. By walking back through the threat scenarios to asset profiles, a pairing of compensating controls to mitigate those threat/risk pairings should be discoverable and then implemented. The final possible action is to defer a decision, meaning risk is neither accepted nor mitigated. This may imply further research or activity, but it is not required by the process.

OCTAVE is a balanced information-focused process. What it offers in terms of discipline and largely unconstrained breadth, however, is offset by its lack of security specificity. There is an assumption that beyond these steps are seemingly means of identifying specific mitigations that can be mapped to the threats and risks exposed during the analysis process.


FAIR (Factor Analysis of Information Risk) is a technical standard for risk definition from The Open Group. While information security is the focus, much as it is for OCTAVE, FAIR has clear applications within operational technology. Like OCTAVE, it also allows for non-malicious actors as a potential cause for harm, but it goes to greater lengths to emphasize the point. For many operational groups, it is a welcome acknowledgement of existing contingency planning. Unlike with OCTAVE, there is a significant emphasis on naming, with risk taxonomy definition as a very specific target.

FAIR places emphasis on both unambiguous definitions and the idea that risk and associated attributes are measurable. Measurable, quantifiable metrics are a key area of emphasis, which should lend itself well to an operational world with a richness of operational data.

At its base, FAIR has a definition of risk as the probable frequency and probable magnitude of loss. With this definition, a clear hierarchy of sub-elements emerges, with one side of the taxonomy focused on frequency and the other on magnitude.

Loss even frequency is the result of a threat agent acting on an asset with a resulting loss to the organization. This happens with a given frequency called the threat event frequency (TEF), in which a specified time window becomes a probability. There are multiple sub-attributes that define frequency of events, all of which can be understood with some form of measurable metric. Threat event frequencies are applied to a vulnerability. Vulnerability here is not necessarily some compute asset weakness, but is more broadly defined as the probability that the targeted asset will fail as a result of the actions applied. There are further sub-attributes here as well.

The other side of the risk taxonomy is the probable loss magnitude (PLM), which begins to quantify the impacts, with the emphasis again being on measurable metrics. The FAIR specification makes it a point to emphasize how ephemeral some of these cost estimates can be, and this may indeed be the case when information security is the target of the discussion. Fortunately for the OT operator, a significant emphasis on operational efficiency and analysis makes understanding and quantifying costs much easier.

FAIR defines six forms of loss, four of them externally focused and two internally focused. Of particular value for operational teams are productivity and replacement loss. Response loss is also reasonably measured, with fines and judgments easy to measure but difficult to predict. Finally, competitive advantage and reputation are the least measurable.

5. The Phased Application of Security in an Operational Environment | Next Section Previous Section

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