Professional Guide To Operational Technology (OT) Security

In order to enhance connectivity across factory processes, manufactures are increasingly relying on internet connected sensors and computerized Operational Technology (OT) at all stages of the shop floor. However, this has created a network with its own exploitable vulnerabilities. The increased number of cyberattacks seen across the industry means that manufactures must prioritize efforts to secure their networks to avoid disruptions across the value chain.

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What is Operational Technology (OT)?

Operational Technology (OT) is a term used to describe the technology used by organizations in their operational processes. Gartner defines OT security as, “Practices and technologies used to (a) protect people, assets, and information, (b) monitor and/or control physical devices, processes and events, and (c) initiate state changes to enterprise OT systems.” This can include anything from the systems that monitor and control manufacturing and industrial processes, to those that manage security and safety operations.

Organizations rely on OT systems to keep their businesses running smoothly and safely. However, these systems are often not given the same level of security attention as other parts of the business, such as Information Technology (IT). This can leave a connected network vulnerable to security risks, which can have a significant impact on operations.

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Why is OT security important?

In recent years, the IT world has witnessed a shift in cyber threats. OT  assets and systems were not connected to the internet in the past, and consequently OT security was not required. As a result, these processes were shielded from external attacks. Organizations tended to apply specialized point solutions to address specific difficulties as digital innovation (DI) programs grew leading to IT / OT convergence. However, these piece-mail approaches to OT security resulted in a convoluted network in which solutions were unable to share data or provide complete visibility.

The increased reliance on computerized networks across business segments have enabled heightened levels of connectivity and transparency across factory processes, resulting in industrial control systems (ICS) that represent the integration of hardware and software with connectivity to  support critical infrastructure. This is a vital functionality in a market continuously affected by global disruptions.

However, the computerization of OT sensors has enabled cyber attackers to launch much more sophisticated assaults. IT and OT networks are frequently kept separate, resulting in duplication of security measures and a lack of transparency. These IT OT networks are unable to keep track of what is going on across the attack surface.  

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Components of Operational Technology?

OT can compromise hardware or software that detects or causes change in existing processes. These components are aimed at the direct monitoring and control of industrial equipment, assets, processes and events. These are examples of relevant OT components:

  • Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs): Industrial computers adapted for process controls
  • Supervisory control and data acquisition systems (SCADA): control system architecture comprised of computers, networked data communications and graphical user interfaces for high-level supervision.
  • Distributed control systems (DCS): a computerized control system for a process or plant in which autonomous controllers are distributed throughout the system with no central operator supervisory control.
  • Computer Numerical Control (CNC) systems: Includes the automated control of computerized machine tools such as drills, lathes, mills and 3D printers.
  • Scientific equipment: Examples like digital oscilloscopes are instruments designed to electronically test and graphically displays varying electrical voltages as a two-dimensional plot.
  • Building Management and Building Automation Systems, (BMS)/(BAS): These systems have particular relevance for factory access but can also extend to energy monitoring, security and safety systems for the built environment.

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What are some common security risks associated with OT?

While the mechanisms and requirements of OT environments vary substantially from IT environments, they both must contend with similar cyber risks. Here are examples of security risks that can affect OT systems:

  • Hackers: Individuals who attempt to gain unauthorized access to computer systems and networks for malicious purposes. Manufacturers can work with ethical hackers to assess potential exploits in their system.
  • Malware: A type of software that is designed to damage or disable computers and computer networks. It can be used to steal information or disrupt operations.
  • Ransomware: A type of malware that infects a network that encrypts data and demands a ransom be paid in order to decrypt it.
  • Industrial Espionage: This is the act of stealing trade secrets, IP, or other confidential information from businesses for commercial gain.

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What are some common security solutions for OT?

Security solution should be tailored to the specific needs of the organization. It should take into account the types of risks that are most likely to affect the organization, as well as the security requirements of the OT systems.

There are a number of security solutions that can be used to protect OT systems:

  • Security Policies and Procedures: Organizations should have security policies and procedures in place to protect their OT systems. These should be designed to address the specific risks associated with these systems.
  • Air Gapped Protocols: While connectivity benefits process visibility, some OT systems or networked can be isolated from external connections. This limits the damages caused by malicious hackers. It is also possible to utilize systems that monitor OT performance and provide visibility while maintaining air gaps.
  • Access Control: This is a security measure that restricts access to computer systems and networks to authorized users only.
  • Vulnerability Assements: Proactively identifying and managing vulnerabilities is a critical part of any security solution. Organizations should identify and assess the risks to their OT systems, and put in place controls to mitigate these risks.
  • Information Technology: IT security solutions can be used to protect OT systems from attacks that originate from within the network. Firewalls, anti-virus software, and other security tools can help to prevent malicious software from infecting OT systems.

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What is the difference between IT and OT security?

The main difference between IT and OT security is the type of systems that are being protected. IT security is focused on protecting the computer systems and networks that are used by organizations to store and process data. OT security is focused on protecting the operational systems that are used by organizations to run their businesses. These systems can include anything from control systems for manufacturing processes to security systems for buildings.

Another key difference is that IT security is typically managed by the IT department, while OT security is often managed by a separate department or even by outside contractors. This can make it difficult to coordinate security efforts between the two groups.

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What to Look For When Choosing an OT Security Vendor:

Operational Technology (OT) systems represent critical infrastructure to business and organization functions. These systems control and monitor industrial network processes, and if they were to fail, it could lead to serious consequences. For this reason, it is important to ensure that OT systems are secure from attack. There are a number of security risks

When choosing an OT security vendor, it is important to consider a few key factors:

  • The vendor’s experience: The vendor should have experience working with OT systems and be familiar with the security risks associated with these systems.
  • The vendor’s offerings: The vendor should offer a security solution that is tailored to the needs of the organization. The solution should be able to address the specific risks that are most likely to affect the organization.
  • The vendor’s support: The vendor should offer support for the security solution, including training and technical assistance.
  • The vendor’s reputation: The vendor should have a good reputation and be trusted by organizations in the industry.

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Enable Secure OT Environments with Stefanini

Developing a security solution that can comprehensively manage the variety of potential risks requires a careful examination of the existing components and features that make a production line successful.

Stefanini is ready to bring the latest and best digital tools needed to optimize your operation.

Our team of experts will examine your processes and use their knowledge to find the technology that meets the unique concerns of any production line. Ready to get started? Contact us today to speak with an expert!

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