Operational technology (OT) cybersecurity is a critical element of an organization’s security posture. It protects the physical and electronic components of industrial systems, networks, and applications from malicious attacks or exploitation. OT controls access to these systems and monitors activities such as network traffic to detect suspicious activity. This allows organizations to identify and mitigate threats quickly and effectively, reducing the risk of security breaches and negatively impacting the organization’s reputation.
OT cybersecurity is particularly important in energy, manufacturing, healthcare, transportation, and water/waste management industries that rely on industrial control systems (ICS). These ICS are responsible for controlling physical processes within these organizations—such as regulating power grids or managing factory production lines—and can be vulnerable to cyber threats. It’s essential that organizations adequately secure their OT systems to protect these critical components from malicious actors.
What is operational technology (OT)?
Operational Technology (OT) leverages software, hardware, and automation systems to manage industrial equipment. OT enables industrial devices and machines to interact with the physical world. OT includes industrial control systems like distributed systems, industrial control systems, data acquisition, automation, and supervisory systems. Through the OT environment, industries can supervise and control processes like energy management, manufacturing, building management, and automation support, among others.
What is operational technology security?
Operational technology cybersecurity deals with referencing hardware components, software, industry devices, infrastructure, people, and other OT services to protect against cyber threats. OT security deals with data protection and other operating necessities around cybersecurity.
Experts and security professionals note that even as enterprises continuously run industrial hardware and infrastructure, they often neglect to secure various industrial operational technologies. According to a Markets and Markets research report, the Operational Technology cybersecurity market will grow from US$ 15 billion in 2022 to US$ 32.4 billion by 2027 to bridge this gap in security.
Critical cyber threats
Since industries leverage data-driven approaches for maximum productivity, IT poses a massive threat to the OT.
Data breaches have become common. Cybercriminals target all endpoints and nodes to eavesdrop and steal sensitive or valuable data. They even sell the stolen data to competitors.
The threat landscape becomes sophisticated as industries incorporate new technologies and techniques to enhance industrial and operational productivity. Thus, enterprises must take proactive measures toward securing devices and industrial infrastructures.
With the incorporation of IoT devices and sensors, threat visibility becomes complicated. Any well-cultivated attack with endurance can cause severe damage to operational technology.
Often, vendor-restricted equipment and legacy infrastructures evade endpoint protection. Cybercriminals target those pain points to breach operational technologies and industrial infrastructure.
Common security threats and challenges that the industrial sector faces
Here is a list of some security threats and challenges that OT security can mitigate:
Malware infiltration: The malware-based attack is one of the most well-known threats faced by operational technology and industrial sectors. Infected flash drives, external hardware, and IoT systems disrupt routine operations, deleting data from the database or causing software system malfunction.
Human error: It is another common threat that industrial sectors face due to the skill gap among the people operating systems. Human errors are hard to avoid and unpredictable. Organizations can effectively tackle human errors by educating and training employees.
IoT botnets and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks: A DDoS is a malicious attempt to disrupt the usual traffic of a website by inundating the server, web application, or network with fake traffic. Every industry leverages different IoT devices and sensors to automate tasks or operate remotely. But due to the vulnerabilities in IoT systems, malicious agents infect them with spurious programs that make these devices a part of the botnet. Cybercriminals use these botnets to launch a DDoS attack.
Securing threats & risks
Industrial and enterprise systems face a number of risks, so it is essential that they utilize a secure framework to protect their data. OT security can be the perfect solution for enhancing enterprise security by:
Ensuring operational continuity: Large industrial sectors often deal with heavy loads of inventory, daily operations, stakeholders, timely delivery pressure, and client demands. Such companies cannot afford any disruption. Even a little breakdown in the operational unit can cost massive monetary losses. Even clients sever ties with companies that cannot ensure robust security. Operational technology security helps ensure seamless and undisrupted functioning.
Prevent attacks on industrial systems: When industries use IoT systems and sensors, along with third-party software, their attack surface expands. Cyberattacks on these sophisticated industrial operations can cost the business millions. OT security practices protect systems by employing a vast network of solutions like firewalls, anti-malware, intrusion detection systems (IDS), and intrusion prevention systems (IPS), among others. It adds an extra protection layer to the infrastructure. OT security also comprises asset management, patch management, and vulnerability analysis that help secure industrial systems against cyberattacks.
Prevention from data breaches and privacy infringement: Amid a spike in security-related incidents, OT security offers secure access, access privilege audit, and data backup with encryption, among other solutions, to strengthen security. Also, OT security comprises policy-driven approaches toward data privacy so that no one can mishandle industrial client data.
OT security best practices
To ensure a smooth-running OT system, it is essential to prioritize cybersecurity. Here are some of the best practices to keep your OT environment secure:
Asset discovery: OT networks and overall infrastructure seem complex. They offer little visibility into various resources within the OT ecosystem. Security professionals need complete infrastructure visibility to safeguard the system. Discovering all devices, topologies, and security standards associated with OT is the first step toward security.
Network segmentation and isolation: To offer complete security to operational technology systems, enterprises must segregate the network so that security professionals can easily audit and monitor them. Other best practices include the least-privilege rule, the zero-trust principle, combining similar network resources, and limiting third-party access.
Threat Prevention: OT security should be detection focused. The strategy should include threat prevention tools, a false-positive error notification system, and other modern ML-based behavioural detection and prevention technologies.
Any company's operational technology disruption can drastically affect its operations and cost them millions in losses. To ensure the security of enterprise systems and prevent any malicious cyberattacks, it is essential to employ OT security solutions that include asset discovery, network segmentation and isolation, threat prevention tools, and other modern ML-based technologies. By adopting these practices, companies can protect their industrial systems from any malicious cyberattacks and safeguard the confidentiality of their data.
In conclusion, OT security is a vital part of enterprise security and can help ensure operational continuity, prevent attacks on industrial systems, and prevent data breaches and privacy infringement.
Learn more about Packetlabs ICS/OT Cyber Security Assessment and contact our team for a consultation.
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