What is Operational Technology and how can it be secured

It is common for most individuals to be familiar with terminology relating to information technology (IT) and the internet of things (IoT). What most don’t know though is that IoT includes all manner of sensors that are interconnected over wireless and online networks. This involves the lesser-known area of operational technology (OT), used for biometric data collection, or used to monitor crucial manufacturing and healthcare processes. This ecosystem is also sometimes referred to as IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things).

All these technologies share a common denominator when it comes to cybersecurity. Organizations need to consistently assess their security posture and address possible vulnerabilities. Some organizations go the route of partnering with an industry specialist, like sepiocyber.com,  who can increase the overall visibility and control of these hardware assets. Safeguarding their secret processes, illuminating attacks posed to the production floor.

IT vs OT

OT systems are purpose-built to achieve automation for specific industrial applications, unlike IT systems, which are developed for a variety of uses for people, devices, and workloads. When compared to IT systems, such as laptops and servers, the technology lifecycle management for OT systems is vastly different and can span decades, whereas IT systems, such as laptops and servers, have a shorter lifecycle, ranging between four and six years. OT systems may be heavily controlled as well. Business divisions are also in charge of OT systems, and CIOs and CISOs are often not in charge of their acquisition, management, or security. However, there is one thing that both IT and OT systems have in common: they are both becoming increasingly reliant on internet or public network connectivity.

The following are some of the most common challenges experienced by plant operations leaders. Although this isn’t a comprehensive list, it does include some of the most pressing OT security issues experienced by manufacturers.

  • Lack of security knowledge among OT personnel
  • Lack of visibility into all OT systems on the production floor
  • Between systems on the manufacturing floor, there is a shared network infrastructure. Should this infrastructure fail or become compromised, all the connected equipment will become compromised.
  • Inability to patch OT systems to solve security risks
  • Increased attack surface as OT/IT convergence improves
  • Providing access to third parties for remote monitoring and maintenance of OT systems takes place over the internet.
  • Within the same organization, separate plants have radically distinct OT environments.

It is critical to recognize the potential risks and develop a protocol and policies to address them in a proactive manner.

Defining Zero Trust for the OT Environment

The mechanisms of applying zero trust for IT security in a cloud-based environment are completely applicable to OT cybersecurity. Here are some guidelines to implement a Zero Trust environment.

Application access should be adaptable, contextual, and independent of network access; this type of zero trust access allows third parties and contractors to access only the programs and systems they require without the use of complicated firewalls or VPNs.

In the absence of network segmentation, micro-segmentation should be carried out at the application level. The conventional approach to network segmentation has failed to protect against threats and weaknesses. Micro-segmentation at the application level stops users from discovering applications they are not permitted to access, lowering the attack surface for malevolent insiders.

The open internet must be able to see applications and networks. For OT systems, this is the most crucial premise. As more OT systems are connected to IT systems, to increase automation, efficiency, and cost savings, making these systems known and accessible on the internet, only to authorized users, reduces the attack surface for malicious activity.

Internet becomes a new corporate network via encrypted micro tunnels. By using the internet as your secure network, you can achieve IT/OT convergence without sacrificing security or convenience.

In Conclusion

In the IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index for 2022, events targeting OT environments, such as critical infrastructure manufacturing, increased by an astounding 2,000 percent year over year. Unfortunately, attackers are finding it easy to penetrate these systems due to their larger attack surface. It should be clear from this disillusioning statistic that organizations need to partner with an industry specialist for increased and trusted cybersecurity.

PKI-Security Engineer & security blogger at gbhackers.com. She is passionate about covering cybersecurity and Technology.

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