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Securing operational technology

17 July 2023 Time to read:  minutes

Author: Alon Josefsberg, Trustmarque cyber security pre-sales consultant

Protecting critical infrastructure in the digital age

Operational technology (OT) plays a vital role in industries such as manufacturing, energy, transportation, and healthcare by controlling and monitoring physical processes. With the convergence of IT and OT systems driven by the Internet of Things (IoT) and digital transformation, securing OT systems has become crucial to ensure their reliability, safety, and protection against operational threats.

Knowing the importance of protecting operational technology systems, who the major threat actors are, and which preventive measures you can use is key to implementing a robust security solution.

Why protecting OT systems is essential?

Ensure safety and reliability: OT systems control critical infrastructure such as power plants, transportation systems, and manufacturing facilities. Any cyber-attack can lead to catastrophic consequences, physical damage, environmental disasters or even loss of life.

Maintain business continuity: A successful cyber attack on OT systems can disrupt operations and cause significant downtime, leading to financial losses and damage to a company’s reputation.

Protect intellectual property: OT systems often contain sensitive data like trade secrets and proprietary algorithms that must be protected from protection from unauthorised access and theft.

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Compliance with regulations: Many industries are subject to regulations and standards that mandate the protection of OT systems. Compliance with these regulations helps organisations avoid legal and financial penalties.

Address emerging threats: As the threat landscape evolves, OT systems become increasingly connected and vulnerable to cyber-attacks. By protecting these systems, organisations can proactively address emerging threats and mitigate risks.

Who are the major threat actors?

There are several threat actors that pose a risk to operational technology (OT) systems. These include:

Nation-state actors are motivated by political or military reasons, nation-states may target OT systems to disrupt rival countries’ critical infrastructure. They possess significant resources, expertise, and employ sophisticated tactics to breach OT systems. Cyberattacks are particularly attractive tool to malign nation states due to their deniability.

Cybercriminals target OT systems for financial gain, such as stealing intellectual property or extorting money from organisations through disruption. Their tactics include phishing attacks, ransomware, and malware to gain unauthorised access.

Insiders with access to OT systems, including employees, contractors, corporate espionage,  or vendors, can pose a significant threat. They may intentionally or unintentionally cause harm by misusing credentials, introducing malware, or making mistakes.

Hacktivists are motivated by social or political causes and may target OT systems to disrupt operations or draw attention to their cause. They employ tactics like distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks or defacements.

Terrorists may target OT systems as part of broader attacks on critical infrastructure. They may use cyber-attacks to disrupt operations, cause physical damage, or steal sensitive information.

Preventive measures for protecting your operational technology assets

  1. Implement strong access controls: Limit access to your OT systems and data to authorised personnel. Employ multi-factor authentication (MFA) and role-based access controls to ensure users have appropriate access privileges.
  2. Implement network segmentation: Segment OT networks from other IT networks to reduce the attack surface and prevent the spread of attacks or malware between networks.
  3. Regularly update and patch systems: Keep OT systems up to date with the latest security patches and updates to address known vulnerabilities that attackers could exploit.
  4. Conduct regular security assessments: Perform periodic security assessments and penetration testing to identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses in OT systems and networks.
  5. Implement intrusion detection and prevention: Deploy intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS) to monitor network traffic for signs of malicious activity and block potential attacks.
  6. Train your employees: Educate employees on security best practices, the importance of security, and how to identify and report suspicious activity. Foster a security-conscious culture within your organisation.
  7. Implement physical security measures: Enhance physical security measures to protect OT assets, including security cameras, access controls, and monitoring systems.
  8. Monitor for anomalies: Continuously monitor network traffic and system logs for anomalies or suspicious activity that may indicate a potential attack.
  9. Implement backup and recovery systems: Establish robust backup and recovery systems to ensure critical data and systems can be quickly restored in the event of a cyber-attack or other incidents.

As organisations continue to rely on operational technology systems for critical operations, protecting these assets from operational threats becomes paramount. By adopting preventive measures, implementing robust security solutions you can mitigate risks and ensure the safety and reliability of your critical infrastructure, maintain business continuity, and safeguard intellectual property.

Trustmarque's vendor-agnostic approach

We work with a comprehensive range of solutions providers to help you navigate the complex landscape of operational threats. Here’s how our vendor-agnostic approach and expertise will get the right solution for your organisation.

Market expertise without vendor bias

We bring a broad view of the market, ensuring you receive recommendations based on your specific needs rather than a particular vendor’s viewpoint.

Addressing your security concerns

Discover security gaps, identify vulnerabilities, and develop strategies to address your unique security concerns.

Finding the right product for you

We will recommend and help you select the right products and consider the appropriate technology to meet your OT security and budget requirements.

NOC services when you need them

You can access our network operations centre (NOC) support, including monitoring, maintenance, troubleshooting, reporting, and configuration support, ensuring your OT assets remain secure and optimised.

Free exploratory vendor-agnostic conversation

We offer unbiased advice and guidance to help you choose the right products and solutions for protecting your OT assets. Get in touch with us today and we’ll arrange an introductory call.

Author: Alon Josefsberg, Trustmarque cyber security pre-sales consultant

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