OT (Operational Technology) Security in the Age of Digital Transformation


What is OT Security?
OT security is a full stack of hardware and software that detects, monitors, or causes a change to physical devices, processes, or events. It is commonly used within Industrial Control Systems (ICS), like SCADA, to protect from attacks and control critical infrastructures. As OT advances and evolves, the need for effective security measures increases, especially as it converges with networked technology.

Why is OT Security Becoming a Top Priority?

According to Gartner, a global research company, Operational Technology (OT) is hardware and software that identifies or reasons a change through monitoring and/or control of physical devices, processes, and events in the organization. Industrial organizations are moving rapidly to take advantage of IT technologies in their operational technology (OT) environments, so they are more competitive. But, in this age of connected networks, industrial organizations are increasingly vulnerable to attacks. Organizations are looking to protect their industrial networks from the high equipment cost and infrastructure loss industrial they could face due to an attack.

In the past, some businesses decided against keeping OT systems up to date, selecting stability over security. Additionally, OT systems were not connected to the internet; therefore, they were not exposed to threats. The main concern for the business was to keep their system always running. Otherwise, the plant could lose vital real-time information and fall behind production schedules.

Delays or unplanned downtimes cost time and money—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 as they are becoming increasingly connected.

These vulnerabilities are perfect for hackers looking for exploits and routes into a network. Therefore, OT security is vitally important. The number of attacks that specifically target organizations utilizing OT is on the rise. A survey found that 90% of these organizations 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 organization’s OT infrastructure, leading to plant or equipment downtime.

The World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Risk Report ranks the biggest threats to operations and critical infrastructure. On this list, cyberattacks made the top five alongside other major threats like natural disasters, geopolitical tensions, and climate change. We know these cyber threats are out there. We also know how costly an attack can be.

How Every CISO (Chief Information Security Officers) Should Handle OT Cyber Security

1. Who should be involved in the OT cybersecurity program?
Security requires networking, endpoint, cloud, regulatory, and other IT partners. However, identifying who these partners will be is a critical part of the CISO’s job. Depending on the organization, partners may include the head of process control technology, the SVP/EVP/VP of operations, influential plant managers, or quality personnel.

2. How should a CISO handle security?

A successful CISO creates a steering committee of IT personnel, OT personnel, and operations leaders who understand the technical challenges of the organization’s systems. Without a steering committee, many organizations stall because key operations personnel are not included early in the process to identify bottlenecks or technical challenges

3. Where should the CISO begin the OT cybersecurity journey?
The OT Cybersecurity journey depends on the organization’s starting point. “360-degree” visibility is required on hardware, software, network connections, users, accounts, and vulnerabilities. To make network protection effective, the CISO must know what they are protecting and how it needs to communicate. To make proper vulnerability management decisions, the CISO needs clarity on the comprehensive 360-degree risk—not all assets in OT can be patched or upgraded. In this case, alternative compensating controls may be needed and prioritization is key. Security event monitoring requires knowledge of which assets to monitor as well as their operations and asset criticality. This 360-degree approach provides a comprehensive view of the risks and how they interact.

4. Why does the CISO need an OT security program?
CISOs have protected IT systems for more than a decade. So, why do they need a specific OT cybersecurity program? The reality is that these systems truly are different than any normal IT system. They are sensitive to change or traditional IT security scanning. They are highly integrated. They may run on legacy operating systems due to long lifecycles. They include many embedded systems that cannot be scanned or managed in the same way a Windows PC or cloud server can. Additionally, acting on a false security alarm can be operationally devastating. Due to this complexity, OT security programs are a must.

5. What security management actions should be included?
Many organizations become hamstrung with the actions they take to secure their OT/ICS environments. Due to the fear, uncertainty, and doubt raised by OEM vendors or others in OT, organizations limit what can be done to secure these systems. In this case, we suggest employing OT systems management. These are the same techniques IT personnel use on IT systems. This includes functions such as patching, vulnerability management, configuration management, user and access management, and more. This comprehensive set of management actions ensures protection and hardening of these devices in advance as well as the detection of anomalies from ongoing attacks. They also align IT and OT security into consistent practice areas that can be monitored and tracked.

6. How should an OT security program be managed?
There is no one perfect way to manage a cybersecurity program. It depends on the way the organization is structured. However, there are several key steps to creating an OT security program regardless of the organization’s overall structure:

• Establish a target early on that allows for measurement and tracking.
• Gain alignment between IT and OT; leverage each for the strengths they bring.
• Build traction early with visibility into key risks by addressing key vulnerabilities.
• Create accountability by adding security into balanced scorecards to ensure the results have an impact on performance


The good news is that it is possible to secure industrial networks without disrupting operations or risking non-compliance. IoTfyNow is a global industrial automation and control solutions provider with nearly 30 years of experience. Our experience in developing Network Security and Device-Level security allows complete visibility of network control traffic; this can deploy an effective OT strategy that will protect processes, people, and profit while significantly reducing security vulnerabilities. Visit our page to know more details about our services.

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