What Is OT Cybersecurity and Why Is It So Important?

OT systems are rigid and deterministic. They’ve been created to act in a particular way and aren’t expected to be as dynamic as their IT counterparts. Attacks on these systems are rising because of vulnerabilities caused by the difficulties of managing growing and further interconnected environments.

This blog will consider why OT cybersecurity is so important and how convergence offers more robust protection.

What is OT cybersecurity?

 

What Is OT Security?

Before we look at its importance, here’s a quick refresher of what OT cybersecurity actually is. If you’re already familiar with OT security, feel free to click here to jump ahead to the next section. 

OT security is hardware and software that detects or causes a change by controlling physical devices through direct or indirect monitoring. It’s common within Industrial Control Systems (ICS) like SCADA, protecting these systems from attack while managing critical infrastructure.

As OT advances and evolves, the need for effective security measures increases, especially as it converges with networked technology. 

 

Why Is OT Security So Important?

In the past, some businesses have decided against keeping OT systems up-to-date, selecting stability over security. They need to be up and running at all times, otherwise the plant could lose vital real-time information and fall behind production schedules. 

Delays or unplanned downtime cost a business time and money which is one of the reasons why some OT systems are left as they are. However, this means plants around the world may be operating from machines that have limited security controls in place and they are becoming more connected. Here lies the problem. 

These vulnerabilities are perfect for hackers who are looking for exploits and routes into a network. This is why OT security is so important, breaches can have kinetic consequences like a breaker trip which causes the lights to go out. The number of attacks that specifically target organisations utilising OT is on the rise. A survey found that 90% of these organisations had experienced at least one damaging cyberattack in the previous two years.

50% of those that dealt with an incident said the attack was against the organisation’s OT infrastructure, leading to plant or equipment downtime. This particular survey highlighted how widespread these issues are with respondents coming from the UK, Germany, Australia, the United States, Japan and more. 

The World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Risk Report ranks the biggest threats to operations and critical infrastructure. Cyberattacks made the top five alongside other major threats like natural disasters, geopolitical tensions and climate change. That’s how serious this issue is. 

We know these cyber threats are out there and we know how costly a successful attack can be. So, what’s the solution? 

 

How IT and OT Convergence Will Protect Your Organisation

The line between IT and OT is already blurring with the introduction of more and more OT systems that feature connected devices. We’re hurtling towards IIoT, a huge network of interconnected sensors, machines and devices sharing real-time information across an organisation. 

Convergence can be a complicated and awkward process that some people are resistant to. However, once completed, an integrated IT/OT security strategy ensures that all areas of an organisation receive the necessary security focus. Previous gaps caused by the traditional silo approach are reduced which brings the organisation’s overall risk level down. 

Both sides must collaborate to address significant security challenges that might arise. Only through a policy of complete transparency can an organisation withstand sophisticated attacks. Assign clear responsibilities so everyone knows who’s accountable for what and the proper process to follow. Then, test absolutely everything multiple times. Seek external validation against defenses and be sure that everyone knows the right procedures to follow. 

To bring everyone up to speed, you need to provide training for all members of staff. This should incorporate the IT and OT sides getting to grips with each other’s work but also all-encompassing security training. With better education, issues like staff accidentally introducing viruses to the network through infected removable media can be managed and reduced.

Establish key objectives and ensure that a centralised figure holds oversight of all security policies. Someone who has global governance and continuous visibility at all times who can proactively make recommendations for change as needed. Review these objectives regularly and incorporate any key lessons learnt to improve procedures in the future. 

Alignment can lead to integrated networks which allow organisations to seamlessly leverage all available resources and information. There might be a temptation to just widen your existing security teams to combat the threat of attack but this is an unnecessary expense, especially if you already have everything you need at your disposal. 

An integrated security network which values collaboration, analytics, good cyber hygiene practices and data-backed decision-making is far better placed to monitor alerts and respond to evolving cybersecurity threats.

 

Getting Started with Convergence

Aligning IT and OT is a complex process that takes time, energy and resources. You’re asking groups with different skill sets and competing priorities to come together - never an easy task. Overcoming this mentality is a key part of the eBook we’ve created for any organisation that’s on a convergence journey. 

The eBook also features the benefits of convergence and why it’s so important you start as soon as possible. Finally, it touches on some actionable tips for getting started. 

For your free copy of the eBook, simply click the link below now.

IT/OT Convergence Guide