As revealed in a recent State of ICS/OT cybersecurity whitepaper from SANS, a critical distinction has been made between Operational Technology (OT) assets and traditional Information Technology (IT) assets.
The SANS whitepaper states that,
“While traditional IT systems primarily handle data at rest or in transit, ICS/OT systems oversee real-time changes in the physical world, managing physical inputs and controlled actions.”
This crucial difference underscores the need for organisations with critical operational environments to take a specialised approach to cybersecurity, as OT systems directly impact the physical realm.
The convergence of IT and OT represents a pivotal development in industrial operations. This integration not only yields a high level of operational efficiency but also provides a platform for operational empowerment, leading to enhanced innovation, streamlined costs, and improved overall performance.
This integration is no longer just a technological advancement, but a strategic necessity that allows organisations to adapt their operational processes. Yet, with every stride forward, we encounter new challenges.
As OT and IT systems integrate, a unique set of cybersecurity concerns becomes apparent. As more devices become connected, this convergence expands the potential attack surface, opening doors to vulnerabilities. It’s at this juncture that vigilance and proactive measures become paramount.
Dedicated resources for people and tools are vital in fortifying security programs to meet today’s dynamic challenges. According to the SANS whitepaper, organisations investing in control system security are more likely to mature, detect, protect, and defend their critical infrastructure.
Encouragingly, a growing number of organisations are allocating budgets specifically for OT cybersecurity, with only 8 per cent lacking such provisions in 2022.
Looking ahead, respondents are directing these budgets towards key initiatives, with a strong focus on three key objectives: increasing visibility, implementing intrusion detection tools, and finally, safeguarding networks with intrusion prevention tools. Let’s look at these three in more detail.
Network visibility is the cornerstone of an OT cybersecurity strategy, providing the necessary visibility and insights to protect critical infrastructure and maintain the integrity of operational processes. Device discovery tools can help to build a comprehensive inventory of all connected devices, including legacy systems, IoT devices, and network components.
Keeping a watchful eye on the digital network is imperative. Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) play a crucial role in enhancing OT cybersecurity by actively monitoring traffic and system activities for signs of potential security breaches or unauthorised access.
In addition to detection, prevention is crucial. Firewalls and access control systems play a pivotal role, carefully examining all network traffic based on preset rules. Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS) enhance this defence by not only identifying threats but also proactively blocking them in real-time. IPS can recognise and block malicious files, malware, and payloads attempting to infiltrate the network.
In a landscape defined by convergence, cybersecurity isn’t just a necessity; it also represents a strategic advantage. By adopting a layered approach to OT cybersecurity that includes visibility, IDS and IPS, organisations can reap the full benefits of digital transformation.
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