Prioritizing OT cybersecurity is a good business practice in industrial environments

June 26, 2023
Bridging the gap between IT and OT can improve operational efficiency and effectiveness.

Operational Technology (OT) refers to the hardware, software and processes used to monitor and control physical devices. OT devices and systems should be considered the very lifeblood of any business that operates in industries such as process manufacturing.

Despite the undeniable importance of OT assets, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and industrial control systems (ICS), many companies are falling short of protecting them from the standpoints of cybersecurity and digital safety. A deficit of basic OT device updating and patching prioritization allows vulnerabilities to broaden the attack surface, fly under the radar and serve as gateways for cyber disruptions and attacks.

Cyber events and misconfigurations of ICS/SCADA have the potential to shut down plant floors and cease operations, and are growing in frequency and severity. Gartner predicts by 2025, cyber criminals will be sophisticated enough to weaponize OT and cause harm within the environment.

This gets to the heart of why digital safety and security for industrial environments needs to be a foremost priority. Recovering from a cyber event can be far more than inconvenient. It can be extremely costly, especially when considering the potential for lost production, equipment damage, harm to people, detriment to the company brand and environmental hazards. Businesses that take proactive and preventative steps to fortify their OT ICS/SCADA digital safety stand a much greater chance of protecting their equipment and thwarting intrusion attempts. Demonstrating reasonable care goes a long way and is better than doing nothing.

The process starts by bridging the gap between OT and information technology (IT). IT and OT departments typically operate in separate silos. Getting them to communicate and work together, while challenging, can impact the success of a business, especially as processing and manufacturing continue to become increasingly digital.

IT/OT convergence is about breaking down barriers and norms between the two to improve efficiency, enhance operations, collect better metrics and harden a business's cybersecurity posture. When the two departments come together to safeguard OT, companies have the potential to limit vulnerabilities, enhance manufacturing time and create a dynamic and flexible manufacturing floor.

As businesses continue to adopt technology, it is important to ensure cybersecurity measures are in place, especially on the OT side. It is important for OT stakeholders buy in and adopt new cyber capabilities within the organization. To achieve this, it is essential to understand the operations process, align with goals and priorities, and be aware of the interconnectivity, dependencies and unique elements of each OT environment. Better IT and OT collaboration supports the process integrity of the operation. As Internet of Things (IoT) technologies become more prevalent and widely used, it is essential to train and educate employees on how to steward OT and keep the entire plant floor up and running.

OT business units should take the lead in digital safety efforts to secure and protect the OT/ICS/SCADA environment effectively. While IT may be equipped to handle various technological assets, they may not be the best fit for proprietary and unique control system applications. IT toolsets are often incompatible with the OT assets, and enterprise practices can be disruptive and cause costly downtime for plant floor operations. This is why a more rigorous commitment to good cybersecurity design and support is necessary as OT technologies are introduced into any processing environment.

By ensuring that OT takes the lead in its digital safety efforts, businesses can optimize operations while maintaining optimal security levels. It is important to recognize the unique needs of the OT environment and develop cybersecurity measures that align with those needs to keep operations running smoothly. Through collaboration between IT and OT, businesses can unlock the full potential of technology while maintaining a safe and secure industrial environment.

This also comes through prioritizing visibility into a business’s industrial networks to achieve a detailed asset inventory that a security operations team can use to protect the environment effectively. Monitoring and troubleshooting industrial operations are also essential to ensure smooth and efficient processes.

Organizations can identify potential vulnerabilities and take proactive measures to prevent cyberattacks by understanding what is connected to their industrial networks. This requires collaboration between IT and OT to establish clear security protocols and monitor all connected devices closely.

Additionally, having a detailed asset inventory allows organizations to better manage and maintain their industrial infrastructure, leading to improved performance and cost savings. Industrial organizations that prioritize visibility into their networks are better equipped to protect their environments, troubleshoot issues and achieve optimal performance levels.

Organizations must encourage IT and OT professionals to collaborate and share their knowledge and expertise. By doing so, they can better understand each other's roles and responsibilities and identify areas where they can collaborate to improve operational efficiency and effectiveness. Rather than perpetuate a culture of indifference, each department should have a shared commitment to figuring out how they can work together to bridge the gap. This can come through shared decision-making, such as purchasing maintenance support. By combining both perspectives and expertise, they can make better-informed decisions that will help benefit the business in the long run and begin moving the needle toward IT/OT convergence.

Industrial cybersecurity firms like Velta Technology offer comprehensive programming and services aimed at helping businesses bridge the gap between IT and OT. These programs contribute to an environment of digital safety, add value, elicit buy-in and create the necessary structures and capabilities for operational and cybersecurity resilience.

As businesses strive to remain competitive in an evolving technological landscape, staying current with the latest trends and advancements is essential. IT/OT convergence has the potential to enhance operations and streamline functionality, making it vital to achieve. However, achieving convergence is not without its challenges, and fundamental hurdles must be addressed to pave the way for success.

Businesses that commit to overcoming these challenges are better positioned to leverage their internal knowledge, capabilities and resources to optimize functionality and improve productivity. By embracing IT/OT convergence and involving all necessary parties, organizations can unlock new opportunities and drive innovation, ultimately improving their bottom line. In this fast-paced digital era, it is more important than ever for businesses to remain adaptable and embrace change to stay competitive and succeed in the long term.

Dino Busalachi has nearly four decades of global experience across IT, engineering and industrial control systems (ICS) with multiple global brands. His deep knowledge and understanding of the inner workings of ICS, OT, IoT and technology solutions led him to co-found Velta Technology in pursuit of helping companies Get Safer Sooner.

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