9 top tips for upgrading controlled systems

We all know that it's important to keep our systems up to date with the latest software upgrades, and antivirus updates. However, there are many networks out there with controlled systems. Examples of controlled systems would be something that is part of a manufacturing process, or is connected to patient care. These systems cannot be changed without going through some sort of rigorous change control and software validation process. The result is that your upgrade strategy cannot keep pace with operating system updates.

In a previous role, I was responsible for a network at a manufacturing facility which produced medical devices. I once considered moving all of the manufacturing equipment to a separate VLAN which had no access to the outside world.

However, this turned out to be a nightmare to implement as the facility was part of a multinational and these systems needed to be accessible in other sites.

I ended up implementing a deep packet inspection system at the network core which looked at all network traffic going to and from the manufacturing systems. I was on the look-out for any suspicious downloading or network scanning which could have been a sign that a worm was trying to spread around the network.

At the time when the Nimda virus was making the headlines, I was watching out for any scans coming into the network on TCP port 445. That was 10 years ago, but the recent outbreak of Morto worm shows that this sort of problem has not gone away.

I have also worked on computer networks within hospitals, and this can be an even greater nightmare to manage with the number of controlled systems and levels of sensitive data. Some hospital equipment will have embedded operating systems which can only be updated by the supplier. When you combine this with staff bringing their own devices into the network, IT security needs to be top priority.

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