Last Updated on October 18, 2023 by Arnav Sharma
Operational Technology (OT) security is critical in safeguarding industrial systems and critical infrastructure from cyber threats. OT systems are the hardware and software that control industrial processes, such as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems and Distributed Control Systems (DCS). As these systems become more interconnected with information technology (IT) systems, the risk of cyberattacks exponentially increases. In this article, we explore key concepts of OT security, best practices, challenges, and solutions for protecting OT systems and critical infrastructure.
What is OT Security and Why is it Important?
The Difference Between IT and OT Security
OT security and IT security are not interchangeable terminologies. IT security focuses on securing information systems within an enterprise network whereas OT security comprises the hardware, software, and networks used in industrial control systems (ICS), which comprise OT devices and networks. OT security efforts aim to ensure that industrial processes and critical infrastructures operate without interruption or damage caused by unintentional or malicious cyber-attacks.
OT Security in the Context of Industrial Control Systems
Industrial control systems (ICS) are responsible for controlling and monitoring the entire manufacturing process, from raw materials to final delivery. These systems involve complex software and hardware used in different manufacturing and energy industries, such as chemical, oil and gas, energy, and utilities. An effective OT security strategy provides mechanisms to protect the commercial operations and processes of the ICS with suitable risk-mitigation tactics. This classification of systems involves entirely different concerns in comparison to traditional IT systems, such as process availability, safety, and reliability.
The Impact of Cyberattacks on Critical Infrastructure
Cybersecurity breaches in OT systems can cause significant damage to public health and safety, national security, and even the environment. Threat actors can launch targeted attacks against industrial systems to disrupt operational processes, avoid detection, or steal confidential data. The situation can be increasingly severe in critical infrastructure sites such as energy grids, transportation systems, and water treatment plants, where operational disruptions can impact millions of people. As such, protecting against industrial targeted cyberattacks is critical.
Best Practices for OT Security
Access Control and Authentication for OT Devices
Access control for OT assets is critical. Ensuring users’ identity gives visibility into the network that OT devices are operating and is a key factor in incident response and auditing. IT tools, such as identity management systems with a protocol, such as LDAP, can centralize the management of applications and users. Effective access control and authentication mechanisms help eliminate unauthorized access and protect operational processes, resulting in securing OT devices and equipment.
Implementing Effective OT Security Controls
Effective OT security controls reduce the risk of vulnerabilities and their impact on the OT environment. These best practices include using stronger passwords, password-protected screensavers, encryption, and firewalls to protect your OT devices. Regular software updates, patches, and rigorous testing are essential to minimize security risks, ensuring that the operational systems work according to their specified design parameters.
Visibility and Monitoring of OT Networks
The first step in securing OT assets is to identify them and have full visibility of the network. Continuous monitoring helps detect any suspicious activity or anomalous behavior quickly. An effective approach to monitoring OT networks is to implement Network Anomaly Detection Systems (NADS), which report unauthorized access, changes to network configurations, and other abnormalities. Implementing robust network segmentation, network security technologies, and continual monitoring policies includes physical security techniques and helps establish a secure OT ecosystem, ensuring proper cybersecurity incident response and continuity of operations.
Challenges in OT Security
The Convergence of IT and OT Systems
Modern OT systems are developed with IT systems embedded inside them or connected to them. This convergence results in challenges in OT security since IT systems receive regular security updates and patches, whereas many OT systems have the same software versions running for merely a decade or more. This difference in cybersecurity posture increases the risk of cyber-attacks in the convergence area.
Vulnerabilities in Industrial Environments
Industrial environments have peculiar vulnerabilities, unlike traditional IT environments. OT systems run in an environment where the availability, maturity, and reliability of hardware and software are essential for safe process handling. Patching OT systems for vulnerabilities is not a straightforward process since there is less available downtime for patching and testing, and patches have a higher probability of having unintended consequences. Furthermore, OT systems can have specific libraries or drivers that are only compatible with particular versions of operating systems.
The Need for a Comprehensive Security Framework
The challenges of protecting OT systems calls for a comprehensive security framework that covers risk assessment, monitoring, access, response, communications, and governance. OT security experts recommend essential components including establishing a security culture, security information and event management (SIEM), mapping IT and OT networks, periodic vulnerability assessments, conducting phishing and social engineering awareness exercises, and collaboration with cybersecurity organizations and security partners. This integrated roadmap gives a phased approach to successful OT security.
OT Security Solutions
OT Security Vendors and Their Offerings
OT security vendors offer a wide range of solutions to tackle specific points of concerns for operational technology environments. These solutions include solutions for access control to OT systems, firewall setups, IT/OT network segregation, and threat-hunting. Some effective solutions are SIEM systems that integrate IT and OT security intelligence and make network visibility simpler with full packet capture solutions. The market has also seen the emergence of hardware-based security solutions that secure root of trust for OT equipment.
Effective Approaches to Securing OT Environments
The effectiveness of any approach to OT security depends on understanding the risks, threats, and vulnerabilities affecting OT environments. The most effective way of understanding them is to conduct a risk assessment that can identify potential problems and prioritize mitigating strategies. Furthermore, securing OT environments involves adopting security best practices consistently across IT and OT systems, mitigating vulnerabilities, and implementing robust cybersecurity architecture continuously raising risk-awareness in operational and IT frontlines, among others.
The Role of IT-OT Convergence in Cybersecurity
The convergence of IT and OT system enables efficient convergence of business and industrial process, resulting in clear benefits. However, it presents the opportunity for attackers to find an indirect attack path to access the target OT environment. IT-OT convergence calls for a collaborative cybersecurity approach to secure the IT-OT convergence zone. The approach would include defining the zone’s perimeter, implementing security controls in the zone, enforcing access controls, and maintaining robust change management processes.
The Importance of Protecting OT Systems and Critical Infrastructure
The threat of cyberattacks and other security breaches in OT systems and critical infrastructure is a significant concern for industries worldwide. Integrating robust OT security measures and solutions is essential to safeguard operations from malicious attacks and maintain business continuity.
The Need for Continuous Vigilance and Improvement in OT Security
As the industrial systems and threats evolve, so must efforts to protect them. OT security requires continual vigilance and improvement to stay ahead of complex, emerging threats. Organizations must develop a culture of security and ensure that their OT environments are resilient to cyber attacks.
The Future of OT Security and Industrial Control Systems
The evolution of OT security processes and technologies will continue to be significant in protecting industrial control systems from cyber-attacks. Industrial systems will continue to demand robust security solutions and strategies for ensuring the security of physical and digital assets in the converging IT and OT environments. The future requires continued research, adopting a proactive approach in cybersecurity, and future-proofing your OT system to keep up with cyber threats in the evolving landscape of the industrial ecosystem.
FAQ – OT Cybersecurity
Q: What is Operational Technology Security?
A: OT security refers to the practice of securing the operational technology systems and environment from cyber threats.
Q: What is the difference between IT and OT security?
A: IT security focuses on securing information technology systems, while OT security focuses on securing operational technology systems such as industrial control systems (ICS) and SCADA.
Q: Why is securing OT important?
A: Securing OT is important because these systems are responsible for controlling critical infrastructure such as power plants, water treatment facilities, and transportation systems. Any breach in security of these systems can have severe consequences.
Q: What are some security challenges in OT?
A: Some security challenges in OT include outdated systems, lack of security standards, difficulty in patching and updating systems, and convergence between IT and OT systems.
Q: What are some security best practices for OT?
A: Some best practices for OT security include implementing access control and user management, conducting regular vulnerability assessments and penetration testing, developing an incident response plan, and establishing the right security policies.
Q: What is IT-OT convergence?
A: IT-OT convergence refers to the integration and connectivity between information technology and operational technology systems.
Q: Why is cybersecurity crucial for OT cyber systems?
A: Cybersecurity is crucial for OT systems because they are increasingly becoming connected to the internet and are remotely monitored and managed. This exposes them to new security risks that need to be addressed.
Q: What are some effective OT security vendors?
A: Some effective OT security vendors include Dragos, Claroty, and Indegy.
Q: What approach should be taken to ensure security in OT?
A: An effective approach to security in OT should involve a combination of technical controls, processes, and people. Security teams and leaders should work together to improve the security of OT resources.
Q: What security standards are available for OT systems?
A: Some security standards for OT systems include NIST Cybersecurity Framework, IEC 62443, and ISA/IEC 62443.
Q: What is the significance of “ot cybersecurity” in today’s digital landscape?
A: A: OT cybersecurity focuses on protecting operational technology (OT) systems from cyber threats. These systems are increasingly targeted due to their critical role in industries like manufacturing, energy, and transportation. Ensuring the security of OT systems is vital to prevent disruptions, data breaches, and potential physical harm.
Q: How does the “ot environment” differ from traditional IT environments?
A: A: The OT environment primarily involves systems that have a direct interaction with the physical world, such as programmable logic controllers, sensors, and industrial automation systems. Unlike IT systems, OT systems often operate legacy systems that are not regularly updated, making them vulnerable to threats.
Q: Why is “vulnerability” assessment crucial in the OT domain?
A: A: Vulnerability assessment in the OT domain is essential because OT systems are designed for long lifespans and often run on legacy systems. Identifying and addressing vulnerabilities in these systems can prevent security incidents that could disrupt critical infrastructure and operations.
Q: How does “critical infrastructure” relate to OT cybersecurity?
A: A: Critical infrastructure refers to vital systems and assets whose incapacitation would have a debilitating effect on security, the economy, or public health. As many of these infrastructures rely on OT systems, ensuring their cybersecurity is paramount to national and organizational safety.
Q: What role does “access management” play in securing OT systems?
A: A: Access management ensures that only authorized individuals have access to OT networks, devices, and systems. Proper management and security measures prevent unauthorized remote access, reducing the risk of cyberattacks and malware infections.
Q: How do “ot teams” collaborate with IT teams to enhance security?
A: A: OT teams and IT teams work together to bridge the gap between traditional IT security and OT security. This collaboration, often referred to as OT and IT convergence, ensures a unified security posture across both domains, addressing challenges that arise due to the unique nature of OT systems.
Q: What does “gartner” say about the future of OT cybersecurity?
A: A: Gartner, a leading research and advisory company, emphasizes the growing importance of OT cybersecurity. As OT and IT systems converge, and as OT processes become more connected, the need for robust security measures, including software that detects or causes security incidents, becomes paramount.
Q: How does “check point software technologies” contribute to OT security?
A: A: Check Point Software Technologies is one of the technology companies that offer solutions for OT cybersecurity. Their products help OT teams in managing access, detecting threats, and ensuring a comprehensive security plan for both OT and IT environments.
Q: What challenges arise in “ot operations” due to cybersecurity threats?
A: A: In OT operations, cybersecurity threats can disrupt productivity, compromise proprietary systems, and even cause physical damage. Malware targeting OT devices and systems can alter sensor readings or manipulate control systems, leading to potential safety hazards.
Q: How is “ot convergence” shaping the future of industrial cybersecurity?
A: A: OT convergence refers to the integration of OT and IT systems. As these systems become more interconnected, the ability to implement security uniformly across OT and IT becomes crucial. This convergence also means that threats can move across OT and IT boundaries, making a unified security approach essential.