Operational Technology (OT) systems are central in critical infrastructure sectors, including manufacturing, transportation, energy, and healthcare. OT systems control and monitor physical processes, making them attractive targets for cyber attackers. Organizations require a comprehensive security approach that mitigates risks, ensures operational resilience, and continually considers the evolving OT landscape. This blog post will cover these aspects and recommend protecting OT systems and data.
While Information Technology (IT) focuses on data and information, OT controls physical processes in industrial environments. Therefore, risk management approaches for OT, and IT differ from one another in several key ways.
OT risks threaten to harm physical assets and disrupt business continuity. They include supply chain issues, safety hazards, equipment failures, and environmental incidents. OT safety frameworks often adhere to specific standards such as IEC 62443 Certification.
OT risk management aims to identify and mitigate risks to operational systems and the physical processes they control. OT environments consist of equipment, systems, and devices that oversee industrial control systems, SCADA systems, PLCs, and physical sensors. These systems are often interconnected with physical assets and require compatibility with legacy systems and real-time processing.
On the other hand, IT environments include databases, servers, corporate networks, endpoints, software applications, and cloud services. IT risk management deals with system failures, data breaches, unauthorized access, and other cyber threats to hardware, software, data, and networks. IT environments face threats such as data breaches, malware attacks, insider threats, unauthorized access, system vulnerabilities, and regulatory compliance violations. Attacks on IT environments include hacking, phishing, ransomware, and social engineering.
IT risk management involves identifying and mitigating threats to these IT systems and infrastructure. It leverages established standards such as the ISO/IEC 27001 and NIST Cybersecurity Framework, which provide guidance on data privacy, cybersecurity, and IT governance.
Operational security for OT environments seeks to protect and manage sensitive information and activities within an organization. Therefore, risks must be promptly identified and mitigated to ensure the integrity, availability, and confidentiality of critical operations and assets.
A strong OT risk management strategy comprises several components:
Operational resilience ensures the ability of critical assets to minimize vulnerabilities, ensure continuity, withstand disruptive incidents, and promptly restore normal operations. An operational resilience strategy capable of protecting critical infrastructure requires a systematic approach capable of identifying, assessing, and mitigating threats that could disrupt business continuity or vital services such as transportation networks, power grids, and communication systems.
An integrated operational cyber security risk-based strategy enables companies to:
The convergence of OT and IT systems has brought about convenience and automation that have streamlined business and physical processes. However, this convergence has also significantly increased the attack surface by creating new vulnerabilities. A robust, risk-based strategy can prevent unauthorized access, disruption, and manipulation. Such an approach can help organizations assess their exposure and minimize threats while ensuring that operations remain as undisrupted and safe as possible.
The following steps are needed to design an effective OT risk and security program:
Consult with all relevant stakeholders
Organizations should develop an effective OT security program with the input and involvement of executive stakeholders, domain experts, IT and OT teams, and experts in physical safety, compliance, and risk. They must continuously ensure that all stakeholders are aligned regarding risk reduction.
Understand risk, safety, and security gaps
Organizations should carry out a comprehensive analysis of current security investments to understand if they are working properly and are providing optimal protection. They should identify any gaps and misconfigurations and take action to mitigate exposure.
Deploy a risk management platform
Organizations should take a holistic and proactive approach to vulnerability and risk management. They must contextualize their security, risk, and safety through impact-driven risk analysis and deploy the proposed mitigation steps to reduce exposure.
Ensure safe and reliable operations
Organizations should continually reassess their operational state with an awareness of risk, safety, and security in the context of operations, it is vital to making ongoing critical business decisions. They must ensure that all domain owners operate safely and confidently, even if other aspects of the business are under attack.
A strong OT risk management security strategy serves as a guiding compass on the journey toward operational security. It allows vital OT services to remain uninterrupted, allowing organizations to stay ahead of threats, protect critical infrastructure, and comply with regulatory requirements.
As the threat landscape evolves rapidly, organizations must use a holistic risk-based approach to building operational resilience. This involves people, processes, and technology to mitigate risks and effectively address potential threats before they become business risks. This is a proactive and adaptive approach that includes threat intelligence, risk assessment, continuous monitoring, and the preemptive mitigation of cyber risk in the OT environment. This is exactly what we do at OTORIO.
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