What is Operational Technology (OT)?

Operational technology (OT) is the use of hardware and software to monitor and control physical processes, devices, and infrastructure. Operational technology systems are found across a large range of asset-intensive sectors, performing a wide variety of tasks ranging from monitoring critical infrastructure (CI) to controlling robots on a manufacturing floor.  OT is used in a variety of industries including manufacturing, oil and gas, electrical generation and distribution, aviation, maritime, rail, and utilities.

What is OT Security?

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.” OT security solutions include a wide range of security technologies from next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) to security information and event management (SIEM) systems to identity access and management, and much more.

Traditionally, OT cyber security was not necessary because OT systems were not connected to the internet. As such, they were not exposed to outside threats. As digital innovation (DI) initiatives expanded and IT OT networks converged, organizations tended to bolt-on specific point solutions to address specific issues. These approaches to OT security resulted in a complex network where solutions could not share information and provide full visibility.

Often, IT and OT networks are kept separate, duplicating security efforts and eschewing transparency. These IT OT networks cannot track what is happening throughout the attack surface. Typically, OT networks report to the COO and IT networks report to the CIO, resulting in two network security teams each protecting half of the total network. This can make it difficult to identify the boundaries of the attack surface because these disparate teams do not know what is attached to their own network. In addition to being difficult to efficiently manage, OT IT networks contain huge gaps in security.

What are the Components of Operational Technology?

Industrial control systems (ICS) are a main component of operational technology. ICS includes different types of devices, systems, controls, and networks that manage a variety of industrial processes. The most common are supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems and distributed control systems (DCS).

What is SCADA?

SCADA systems collect data from sensors, often at distributed sites and send it to a central computer that manages and controls the data. DCS are used to manage local controllers or devices of production systems in one location.

What are Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) Devices?

The smallest components of operational technology are a diverse array of sensors, monitors, actuators, and other technologies that are deployed on or near OT equipment. This equipment is pervasive and includes generators, pipelines, fans, programmable logic controllers (PLC), remote processing units (RPU), industrial robots, etc. These sensors are examples of IIOT.

IT vs. OT?

It’s important to understand the difference between IT and OT because IT and OT are often confused. While operational technology controls equipment, information technology (IT), controls data. Specifically, IT focuses on securing confidentiality, integrity, and availability of systems and data.

What is IT-OT Convergence?

Digital innovation requires operational technology systems to interact with information technology systems. OT network components like control systems, SCADA, and industrial networks are being connected to IT network components such as processors, storage, and systems management. With IT-OT integration, the data collected by physical equipment and IIOT devices can be used to identify problems or increase efficiencies. Another example according to IDC, is that customer interaction and service case information typically found in a CRM application, when aligned to the customer experience, can then be used to make improvements in supply chain, operations, and product development.

However, connecting a previously air-gapped (not connected to the outside world) OT network to the internet via an IT network immediately exposes the OT network and all connected OT devices to the entire threat landscape. OT is generally not secure, since it was originally designed with the assumption it would not be exposed to threats. In addition, the rise of remote access to OT networks by third-party vendors further expands the attack surface and creates new vulnerabilities.

Effective OT Security is Not Negotiable

Operational technology is responsible for processes that if breached could impact outages of critical services that result in loss of life. Emergency services, water treatment plants, traffic management, and other critical infrastructure rely on operational technology solutions to operate correctly. Even a successful attack on OT organizations not responsible critical infrastructure can cause dire consequences. For example, a food production facility could ship unsafe food if safety checks are removed by a hacker.

While historically, cyber criminals have been primarily interested in stealing data, they are increasingly targeting OT networks as they recognize the potential for disruption due to inadequate OT security. They are developing more sophisticated and destructive attacks targeted specifically at operational technology companies.

OT organizations are aware of the danger. OT security professionals responded that risk is at critical levels in a recent survey by the SANS Institute. As corroboration, the Fortinet State of Operational Technology Report discovered that OT security risk is indeed a top concern—nearly 74% of OT organizations reported experiencing a malware intrusion in the past 12 months, causing damages to productivity, revenue, brand trust, intellectual property, and physical safety.

 

Source: www.fortinet.com

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