OT Security

The Rising Importance of OT Security in a Connected World

As technology becomes more integrated and sophisticated, cyber threats continue to develop and evolve to penetrate networks in any way possible. While many organizations have the tools and resources to protect against common cybersecurity incidents, there is a growing threat to operational technology (OT) environments.

Operational technology uses hardware and software to monitor and control physical processes, devices, and infrastructure. Operational technology systems are found across many asset-intensive sectors, performing various tasks ranging from monitoring critical infrastructure to controlling robots on a manufacturing floor.  OT is used in multiple industries, including manufacturing, oil and gas, electrical generation and distribution, aviation, maritime, rail, and utilities.

Operational technology includes several different characteristics, including:

Physical Components: Devices and equipment, such as sensors, actuators, programmable logic controllers, human-machine interfaces, industrial robots, and other industrial automation devices.

Control Systems: Systems that manage and regulate industrial processes. These control systems can be hierarchically distributed, allowing real-time monitoring and adjustments.

Real-time Operations: One of the primary functions of OT is to facilitate real-time monitoring and control of industrial processes. This ensures efficient and safe operations by responding quickly to changes or anomalies.

Industrial Communication Protocols: OT devices and systems often use specialized communication protocols designed for industrial environments, such as Modbus, Profibus, DeviceNet, and others.

Industrial Automation: OT plays a crucial role in industrial automation, enabling tasks that were once performed manually to be automated for increased efficiency and precision.

Interconnection with IT: In recent years, the lines between OT and Information Technology (IT) have blurred, leading to the emergence of the term “Industrial Internet of Things” (IIoT). This integration allows for more comprehensive data analysis, predictive maintenance, and improved decision-making.

Cybersecurity Challenges: Protecting operational technology from cyber threats is a critical concern. As OT systems become more interconnected, they become potential targets for cyberattacks, which could have severe consequences for industrial processes and infrastructure.

The Importance of OT Security

The cybersecurity challenges facing operational technology have continued to grow in recent years. Operational technology companies must adapt and employ OT security to protect their assets from cyber threats.

Traditionally, OT security was unnecessary because most OT systems were not connected to the internet. However, with digital innovation, OT systems grew to include many components that utilize the internet to perform their processes. As such, IT and OT systems began to share networks, and the security threat to OT systems increased.

IT and OT networks are often kept separate, but this requires duplicated security efforts and frequently additional security teams protecting the two different networks. This can make cybersecurity more challenging to manage efficiently and reduce the visibility and communication between the two networks. IT and OT have many overlapping and complementary technologies but also many differences. IT and OT networks differ in infrastructure, technology, physical environments, and protocols, often requiring different skills and training to manage. In most cases, a different approach to OT security is necessary because the technology fundamentally differs from the IT networks.

IT-OT integration allows OT network components like control systems and data sensors to be connected to IT networks so that the data collected by physical equipment and IIoT devices can be used to identify problems and increase efficiency. However, companies must be careful when connecting OT networks to the internet via an IT network because it can expose OT devices to the entire threat landscape. OT is generally less secure, as it was initially designed with the assumption that it would not be exposed to threats. In addition, third-party vendors’ rise of remote access to OT networks further expands the attack surface and creates new vulnerabilities.

OT organizations are aware of the risk levels of OT security. According to a survey done by Fortinet, 74% of OT organizations reported experiencing malware intrusions over the past year.  As the integration between OT and IT continues to increase, securing operational technology becomes crucial to prevent potential cyber-attacks and ensure the safety and reliability of industrial processes. Operational Technology Security is a set of practices and technologies to protect people, assets, and information; monitor and control physical devices, methods and events; and initiate state changes to enterprise OT systems.

OT security solutions can include a variety of security solutions. Below are some examples of OT security solutions that can help an organization prevent attacks on their operational technology environments.

Network Segmentation: Implementing network segmentation involves dividing the OT network into smaller segments or zones, each with its security measures and access controls. This helps contain cyber threats within specific areas and prevents lateral movement of attackers across the network.

Next-Generation Firewalls (NGFWs): Deploying an NGFW at critical points in the OT network helps monitor and filter incoming and outgoing traffic, blocking suspicious or malicious activities in real-time.

Security Information and Event Management (SIEM): SIEM solutions collect and analyze security event data from various sources within the OT environment. This allows security personnel to detect potential threats, investigate incidents, and respond promptly to security breaches.

Access Control and Multi-factor Authentication: Enforcing strong access controls and authentication mechanisms ensures that only authorized personnel can access critical OT systems and perform specific actions. Multi-factor authentication and privilege management are commonly used in this context.

Encryption: Encrypting data in transit and at rest helps protect sensitive information from unauthorized access and interception. Encryption should be applied to communication channels, databases, and other critical data repositories.

Patch Management: Keeping all OT devices and software up to date with the latest security patches is crucial to address known vulnerabilities and protect against potential exploits.

Endpoint Detection and Response Solutions (EDR): Deploying security software on OT devices and endpoints helps safeguard against malware and other threats that might target these devices, and monitoring and analysis tools can detect abnormal behaviour or deviations from expected patterns in the OT environment, indicating potential security breaches.

Security Awareness Training: Educating employees and personnel about cybersecurity best practices and potential risks can significantly improve the organization’s overall security posture.

Backup and Disaster Recovery: Regularly backing up critical OT data and having a comprehensive disaster recovery plan ensures that operations can be restored in case of a cyber incident or system failure.

Physical Security: Physical security measures, such as secure access to OT facilities, video surveillance, and environmental controls, are essential to prevent unauthorized physical access to critical infrastructure.

Wrapping Up

OT security is a continuous process as the threat landscape evolves rapidly. Organizations must adopt a proactive and holistic approach to effectively secure their operational technology infrastructure. Additionally, compliance with industry-specific regulations and standards related to cybersecurity is essential for maintaining the integrity and safety of critical systems. Managed security providers such as Gibraltar Solutions can assist in creating a robust cybersecurity landscape.

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