Operational Technology (OT) Security: Importance, Challenges & Best Practices

Operational Technology (OT) Security: Importance, Challenges & Best Practices-feature image
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Operational Technology (OT) security comes at the forefront of safeguarding critical infrastructure and control systems against the rapidly evolving landscape of cyber threats. It ensures that all the OT systems work optimally without getting impacted from cyber-attacks.

Therefore, by implementing OT security, you can maintain the optimal stability of your systems and devices without sacrificing the security of your employees and resources. In this article, you will learn more about this security and why you need to leverage it within your organization.   

What is Operational Technology (OT)?

Operational technology (OT) refers to the hardware and software used to monitor and control industrial machinery, manufacturing systems, critical infrastructure, etc. It’s different from information technology (IT) which deals with data and information management.

On the other hand, Operational Technology (OT) is used for managing various OT systems. Some examples of OT systems include distributed control systems, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, etc.  

These systems are used for managing various industrial processes. Therefore, maintaining their security is essential to avoid negative consequences. 

What Is OT Security?

Operational Technology Security comprises all the measures and controls taken to protect OT systems that use software for automating industrial processes from cybersecurity threats. It involves monitoring systems, managing their access, identifying and remediating threats for smooth functioning of critical infrastructure. The main purpose of OT security is to prevent unauthorized access and disruptions of industry-specific equipped systems.

What’s the Difference Between IT and OT Security?

IT security focuses on data confidentiality and OT security focuses on equipment safety. In IT security, patches are updated frequently whereas in OT security they are not. Here is the detailed comparison of IT and OT Security below. 

Metrics  IT Security  OT Security 
Focus  Securing data and Information  Securing equipment and physical processes  
Network Control Business networks and internet connectivity Control networks specific to industrial processes and critical infrastructure 
Patching Frequency Update patches are added frequently Update patches are not added quite frequently. 
Devices Protected Desktop, laptop computers, keyboards, printers, smartphones, etc. Sensors, actuators, generators, industrial robots, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), remote processing units, etc. 
Business Priority  Maintaining data confidentiality Maintaining the optimal working of equipment  

What is IT-OT Convergence?

IT-OT convergence is the integration of OT systems with IT systems to streamline the data transmission between these systems. IT devices can collect data from OT and iOT devices that can be used to identify inefficiencies and improve the functioning of these systems.  

Previously, OT systems were isolated from IT networks and internet that protected them against cyber-attacks.  However, connecting them to internet-based IT systems has also made them vulnerable to various cyber threats. Additionally, remote access to OT ecosystems via third party software has also made it more prone to security vulnerabilities. 

Why Is OT Cybersecurity Important?

Industrial control systems (ICS) that manage various industrial processes are important in maintaining operations. Compromise of these systems might also lead to severe repercussions for your business. Operational technology security controls access to these systems and oversees network traffic to identify any suspicious activity. This data helps in mitigating threats that might impact the optimal working of the equipment and lead to severe consequences.  

Organizations working in the manufacturing, oil and gas, chemical, mining, petrochemical or any other industry concentrate upon OT cybersecurity to safeguard operational technology-based assets, systems, and processes from cyber threats. Further, maintaining OT cyber security helps them to comply with industry specific regulations and compliance. 

Common OT Security Challenges Faced by Organization

OT security can help a lot in mitigating cyber-attacks but there are certain challenges associated with it. For example, there is no single tool or software that can provide visibility into all threats. Similarly, employees are not completely familiar with the type of OT threats that can occur. Here are some other challenges faced by organizations in OT security implementation:  

  • Use of legacy operating systems and obsolete machinery make the OT security protocols difficult to implement  
  • Employees may not have complete visibility into all the OT devices components. This makes these components susceptible to vulnerabilities  
  • Organizations use a removable drive that can inject malware into systems and equipment 
  • Any type of human error in installing and updating systems could make the OT network vulnerable to cyber attacks 
  • Sharing security controls with multiple people makes overseeing security of OT systems difficult.  
  • The longer lifecycle of industrial equipment makes it difficult to keep them updated regularly.  
  • Converging IT and OT systems may raise security issues as both of them have different security requirements. 

Operational Technology Security Best Practices

Operational Technology Security Best Practices 

To keep your OT systems secure, it is important that you implement a few practices such as digitally mapping the location of OT devices in real time for identifying the areas of cyber-attacks. Here are some other practices that you can follow for ensuring OT security:  

Follow Zero Trust Framework

Adopting this framework will make sure that every user is verified every time he or she is using the OT system even if he has been verified earlier. This will help in mitigating cyberattacks from both insiders and outsiders over the operational technology systems. 

Train Your Employees

To avert cyber-attacks on OT systems, it is important to educate and train your employees on different types of cyber-attacks. Successful training would help them understand the type of threats and their potential vectors that can mitigate overall security risks. 

Use identity and access management

By using identity and access management, you can restrict access to certain OT devices or systems. This will ensure that only authorized individuals have access to OT systems.  

Check for Suspicious Activity in the OT Ecosystem

To prevent cyber-attacks on OT systems, it is important that you monitor the entire OT ecosystem for vulnerabilities. For that purpose, you must check network activities like traffic from service providers to reduce the risks of security.  

Implement OT Asset Discovery Method

Most OT networks are complicated and spread across multiple locations. Therefore, it becomes difficult to manage OT resources. To get rid of this issue, you must adopt the OT asset discovery method. This will help get complete visibility into OT resources and protect the operational technology ecosystem.   

Things to Consider While Choosing an OT Security Vendor  

To select the right OT Security vendor, make sure it fulfills the following requirements:  

  • Scalability: Choose an OT security vendor that offers a solution that can be scaled to accommodate the growth of your operational infrastructure, allowing for the addition of new devices and systems without compromising security. 
  • Industry Experience: Ensure the vendor has worked with organizations in your specific industry, implying he has a deeper understanding of the requirements of your operational environment. 
  • Features: The OT Security Vendor should offer OT security features like IAM management, traffic analysis, network segmentation, OT assets discovery, etc.  
  • Incident Response Time: Make sure the vendor offers shorter lower incident response time to quickly fix responses when any incident occurs. 
  • Cost: The cost of the security solution you are planning to buy should be within your estimated budget. 

FAQs

  1. What are the goals of OT security?

    The goal of OT security is to maintain optimal functioning of OT systems. You can use OT cybersecurity software to oversee, analyze and control industrial systems both on site and remotely.

  2. What are OT attacks?

    OT attacks are a kind of attack that can affect the optimal functioning of operational technology devices and systems. They can lead to severe physical consequences like system shutdowns, explosions, etc. 

  3. Why is OT cybersecurity important?

    Operational Technology (OT) cybersecurity is important for protecting the uptime, security, safety, etc., of industrial systems and critical infrastructure. 

  4. What is OT security assessment? 

    OT security assessment is conducted to ensure the safety of systems that are used to control, manage, and oversee operational processes and activities.

  5. What are the examples of OT systems?

    The examples of OT systems include machine control systems, industrial automation systems, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), distributed control systems, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, remote terminal units (RTUs), intelligent electronic devices (IEDs), etc. 

Published On: November 28, 2023

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