The Current State of Operational Technology Security
This article looks at the current state of operational technology security, exploring its definition, components, threats, regulatory landscape, challenges, and standards.
Operational technology (OT) security has emerged as a critical concern in today’s interconnected and digitized industrial landscape. As industries increasingly rely on IT and OT system integration to optimize processes, improve efficiency, and drive innovation, OT security becomes paramount to ensure the reliability and safety of critical infrastructure.
An OT network encompasses the hardware and software systems used to monitor, control, and automate physical industrial processes. The latter span a wide range of sectors—including energy, manufacturing, transportation, and critical infrastructure.
Central to OT environments, ICS manage and automate critical processes. Its components can consist of human-machine interfaces (HMIs), programmable logic controllers (PLCs), remote terminal units (RTUs), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, sensors, actuators, and communication networks. Their interconnectivity enhances efficiency but also introduces potential vulnerabilities. OT security involves safeguarding it all from cyber threats that could disrupt operations, jeopardize safety, and compromise sensitive data.
OT networks have increasingly become prime cyberattack targets due to their criticality and the potential for widespread impact. Direct targets include SCADA and PLC systems that control processes and infrastructure. Indirect targets include systems such as HVAC, lighting, and building management systems that, if compromised, could indirectly impact operational reliability.
Common OT security threats include:
Given the increasing sophistication of cyber threats targeting OT networks, enterprises must adopt a holistic cybersecurity strategy that includes preventive measures, continuous monitoring, incident response planning, and personnel training.
Protecting OT environments requires a deep understanding of the unique challenges posed by these threats and a proactive approach to mitigate the potential impact on critical infrastructure and industrial processes.
Several industry-specific protocols and regulations address the security and compliance needs of OT environments. Each is tailored to a specific industry or sector to ensure the safety, reliability, and security of critical infrastructure and industrial processes. Each addresses its respective industry's specific needs and challenges, contributing to a comprehensive OT cybersecurity approach across various sectors. Notable examples include:
ISO/IEC 27001 – This provides a structured approach to information security management systems (ISMS) that can be adapted to OT environments. It addresses risk assessment, mitigation, and compliance.
Organizations can tailor it to address your operational technology systems' unique risks and requirements. Implementing 27001 involves conducting risk assessments, defining security controls, and establishing an ongoing monitoring and improvement process.
NIST Cybersecurity Framework – This provides a comprehensive approach for organizations to manage and reduce cybersecurity risk across various sectors, including OT. It emphasizes the importance of identifying and prioritizing critical assets, protecting systems and data, detecting and responding to threats, and recovering from incidents. NIST’s guidance encourages organizations to develop a risk management strategy that aligns with your specific operational technology environment.
NERC CIP (North American Electric Reliability Corporation Critical Infrastructure Protection) –This set of cybersecurity standards focuses on the energy sector—particularly electric utilities. They’re established to protect the reliability of the bulk power system by ensuring the security of critical cyber assets.
NERC CIP requires organizations to have access control measures, incident response plans and other security measures in place. The standards are mandatory for all entities that have responsibility for the reliable operation of the bulk power system.
IEC 62443 (Industrial Communication Networks - Network and System Security) – This IEC series provides a comprehensive framework for the security of industrial automation and control systems (IACS). It covers network security, system security, and security management. IEC 62443 is widely recognized and adopted by organizations and industries with critical infrastructure and industrial control systems.
It provides a structured approach to assess, mitigate, and manage cybersecurity risks in these environments, helping protect against cyber threats that could disrupt operations, compromise safety, or lead to other adverse consequences.
Maintaining the integrity, safety, and continuity of industrial processes is critical for operational technology security. A cyberattack on your OT network can lead to production disruptions, equipment damage, environmental hazards, and even human safety risks. IT and OT system convergence increases your attack surface, necessitating robust security measures to prevent unauthorized access, data breaches, and malicious manipulation.
Risk management in an OT network is complex due to factors such as legacy systems, lack of standardized metrics, real-time operational constraints, and the potential for physical consequences. Assessing the impact of a vulnerability on operational processes requires collaboration between IT and OT teams and a full understanding of the potential cascading effects.
The current state of OT security is marked by the growing recognition of its importance in safeguarding critical infrastructure and industrial processes. The convergence of OT and IT systems, the rise of cyber threats, and the need to adhere to industry-specific regulations necessitate a holistic approach to security.
By understanding the components of OT, acknowledging the evolving threat landscape, and adopting recognized standards and frameworks, your teams can navigate the complexities of operational technology security and ensure the stability and safety of your industrial operations.
Meeting the unique challenges and requirements of industrial control systems and critical infrastructure, OTORIO focuses on protecting everything you operate. Our risk-based approach to the assessment, monitoring, and management of cyber risk of operational technology provides the following OT security best practices:
OTORIO’s unique, proactive technology assesses OT security threats by analyzing and visualizing four key components—threat, likelihood, vulnerability, and impact—and provides risk mitigation actions prioritized according to actual exposure and potential impact on operations. The OTORIO platform enables you to achieve an integrated, holistic security strategy for industrial control systems and cyber-physical systems (CPS).
In an era of increasing connectivity and digitization, robust OT security is no longer an option but an essential requirement to ensure your industrial processes' safety, efficiency, and sustainability.
Schedule a demo to learn how OTORIO can help your business.
What are the top benefits of a security fabric?
A security fabric offers a comprehensive and unified cybersecurity approach to protect connected devices, networks, applications, and data. Benefits include improved visibility of all assets on the network; enhanced protection against emerging threats; simplified policy enforcement across distributed infrastructures; automated identification and response to potential threats; and improved compliance with industry standards. All these features help reduce operational risk associated with cyber security.
What is an operational technology security framework?
Operational Technology (OT) security is critical for assessing and safeguarding operational environments. It focuses on protecting physical assets, such as production processes, control systems, and networks. Organizations can identify threats and vulnerabilities by implementing risk management practices, safety standards, and cybersecurity operations.
This framework provides guidance for creating an OT security strategy, identifying cyber risks, and responding effectively. It strengthens security by integrating innovative technologies and optimizing protection against evolving threats.
What is the ISO standard for OT security?
The ISO (International Organization for Standardization) has created a standard process for OT security, called ISO/IEC 62443. This internationally recognized standard provides an overall framework and processes for the secure operation of OT systems.
It outlines best practices for authentication, authorization, encryption, patch management, identity and access management, asset inventorying, and other safety measures. Adopting this standard can help organizations develop a comprehensive OT security strategy and ensure that their OT systems are adequately protected against cyberattacks.
What is OT in NIST?
NIST Special Publication 800-82 provides guidelines for securing OT systems. Examples include industrial control systems (ICS), building management systems (BMS), and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA).
It covers topics such as identifying operational technology risks and assets, assessing the security posture of the OT environment, implementing security controls, responding to incidents, and monitoring and maintaining system security. It also offers guidance on developing an OT-specific incident response plan and training personnel in appropriate practices.