Operational Technology

Chris Swagler | February 23rd, 2024


The backbone of a critical industrial control system is operational technology, which underpins everything from energy production and water supply to manufacturing and transportation. Today, the systems are increasingly using edge computing linked to IT networks, transforming OT devices into powerful IoT and industrial IoT endpoints. However, the interconnection exposes OT to cyberattacks that might have disastrous and potentially lethal repercussions. Companies that rely on OT need to consider implementing the following operational technology security best practices to mitigate cyberattacks.

  1. CISOs Have Control of OT Security –  Operational technology systems were traditionally managed separately from IT departments, resulting in a segmented approach to cybersecurity. However, with the growing convergence of OT, IT, IoT, and industrial IoT (IIoT), a cohesive strategy for mitigating cyber threats is required. With CISO having control of OT cybersecurity, it ensures that security measures are consistently applied and that the companies’ security posture is optimized. Additionally, the CISO can provide the essential oversight, resources, and knowledge to accurately analyze OT security risks and effectively detect and respond to cyber threats and vulnerabilities.
  2. Identifying and Prioritizing OT Assets – Before companies can protect their assets, they must first determine what and most critically, where they are. Every company need to have a current inventory of all OT systems, hardware, software, and associated technologies. In some companies, different business units maintain OT asset inventories separately. The security team, however, has centralized, automated discovery and management capabilities that provide complete insight into the OT environment and attack surface. After identifying assets, companies need to prioritize them according to their value to operations. A system that operates a power plant’s turbine, for example, is likely to be more vital than one that monitors the ambient temperature in companies’ offices. By prioritizing its assets, companies can achieve the following critical goals:
  • Concentrate investments on high-priority assets.
  • Create incident response protocols that prioritize protecting the most sensitive assets first.
  1. Conducting Security Awareness Training – Humans are the weakest link in the cybersecurity chain, and this is especially true in OT environments. Having regular security awareness training ensures that employees, whether in IT, OT, or nontechnical roles, understand the cyber risks and their responsibilities in mitigating them. Security awareness training needs to cover the unusual challenges posed by OT systems, including the potential implications of critical infrastructure attacks.
  2. Regularly Updating and Patching Software – If OT systems are running old software, they may be exploited to vulnerabilities. A robust patch management procedure ensures that all systems receive updates in a timely manner. OT connectivity is vital to operations, so updates and patches must be tested in a controlled environment before deployment. It reduces network downtime and protects against operational disruptions caused by incompatible or faulty patches.
  3. Controlling Network Access – It’s critical for companies to control who and what can connect to the OT networks by using security tools, including identity and access management and network access control. Companies need to follow the concept of least privilege and restrict OT system access to only the devices and users who require it to complete their duties and can greatly lower the chance of intrusion.
  4. Considering Zero-Trust Framework – The zero-trust model follows the philosophy of “never trust; always verify.” Rather to presuming that everything with companies’ networks is secure, zero trust requires ongoing authentication and permission of all users and devices, both internal and external. Additionally, zero-trust technology can leverage behavioral and contextual clues to detect suspicious activities, including OT access requests made at unusual times of the day or by unexpected users. It can limit threat operators’ ability to successfully move laterally within a network while also preventing a rogue internal agent from compromising vital infrastructure systems.
  5. Deploying Microsegmentation – Microsegmentation separates the companies’ networks into small, secure zones that restrict intruders’ access to corporate resources. In an OT environment, it could include adopting network segmentation to prevent devices in one zone from communicating directly with those in another without proper authorization. It prevents the potential spread of cyber threats and ensures that if one section is compromised, other key parts are not.

As the distinction between OT and IT becomes increasingly blurred, comprehensive security measures must be extended to operational technology systems. Companies that implement the OT security best practices, mentioned above, can help assure the protection and integrity of their important OT systems, thereby protecting their operations and the general public. Additionally, companies need to be alert to the current threat landscape and have cybersecurity best practices in preventing cyber risks. By leveraging SpearTip’s Advisory Services offerings, companies will learn how to protect their organization better and defend against even the most sophisticated cyber threats. From ransomware, wire fraud, business email compromise, insider threats, and APTs, the threats and attack vectors are exponentially increasing. SpearTip’s Advisory Services are focused on real and imminent threats. Advisory services and risk engineering provide a proactive approach to understanding companies’ network vulnerabilities, ShadowSpear provides constant eyes on the glass to respond to active threats, and Incident Response helps their organization get back into a fully operational state following a cyberattack. Security Operations Center as a Service (SOCaaS) is a security model in which a third-party vendor operates and maintains a fully managed SOC on a subscription basis via the cloud. A SOCaaS model provides all the security functions of a traditional, in-house SOC where the vendor assumes responsibility for all people, processes, and technologies needed to enable those services on a 24/7/365 basis.

If your company is experiencing a breach, call our Security Operations Center at 833.997.7327 to speak directly with an engineer.


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