Strategies for Securing Operational Technology From Cyberattacks
Organizations face threats from nation-state hackers, disgruntled employees, and other unintentional actors. In many cases, these attacks exploit known security vulnerabilities.
As IT and OT environments continue to converge, cybersecurity teams must understand the best practices for securing OT from cyberattacks. Here are five essential strategies: 1. Use purpose-built network assessment tools for OT environments.
Securing operational technology from cyberattacks focuses on the hardware and software used to control industrial equipment interacting with physical environments. It includes PLCs, DCSs, and SCADA systems. These devices are increasingly becoming attractive targets for malware and hackers because they contain valuable data. The consequences of a successful attack can have broad implications, including business continuity and disaster recovery, regulatory compliance, public safety, and the environment. Before implementing protections, it is essential to document and understand the operational environment, including data flows and detailed descriptions of connected devices.
Encryption is a crucial cybersecurity measure for protecting OT assets and communications. It scrambles information into cipher text that authorized parties can only read with the decryption key. It helps thwart attackers, who may gain access to an organization’s network and data but can only use it for malicious purposes. In addition to confidentiality, encryption provides integrity by ensuring that critical datasets are not tampered with or compromised. For example, artificial intelligence/machine learning models require sensitive data that must remain accurate to perform reliably.
Operational technology includes computer systems used in critical infrastructure (power, water, etc.), manufacturing, and other industries. They monitor and manage industrial machinery to ensure production and high availability. Historically, these systems have been kept separate from IT environments and “air-gapped” to prevent security risks. However, cybersecurity vulnerabilities arise as OT equipment becomes more digital and Internet-connected for improved efficiencies and functionality.
To protect OT networks, a comprehensive monitoring strategy must be deployed. This involves expanding visibility into converged IT/OT segments, taking inventory of OT assets connected to the network, and developing threat intelligence from these data sources.
It also means deploying detection sensors to detect anomalies, threats, and attacks. These can be combined with centralized log aggregation to increase threat visibility and accelerate response times. It’s important to note that detection-focused strategies tend to be more successful than prevention-focused approaches in reducing vulnerability to cyberattacks due to false positive errors that can occur with threat prevention tools. This is why establishing a solid baseline of security hygiene and detection capabilities is so important.
Authentication is one of the most critical security measures to protect data, applications, and systems from unauthorized access. It verifies that a person or process is who they claim to be and only allows access after a successful authentication.
Passwords are one of the most common single-factor authentication (SFA) forms. However, many organizations have shifted to multifactor authentication (2FA), which requires more than just a password for users to access applications, networks, and resources. This type of authentication uses a combination of methods, including a code sent to a user’s mobile device when they attempt to sign on or a biometric signature, such as a fingerprint TouchID or facial scan.
OT cybersecurity involves the software, hardware, practices, and people deployed to protect industrial infrastructure from cyberattacks. These attacks can cause physical damage to OT equipment in the real world, impacting production, safety, and energy supplies. Organizations need a strong OT security strategy to mitigate these threats, including a zero-trust framework that presumes all connections are malicious and must be verified.
Network security is the set of technologies and practices that protect internal computer networks from cyber-attacks and data breaches. It includes access control, threat detection, and malware prevention.
Adequate network security starts with authentication. It typically involves something the user ‘has,’ such as a username and password, and something the user ‘is,’ like a fingerprint or retinal scan. Behavioral analytics tools can identify risky user behavior that typically precedes a threat, making it easier for system security administrators to detect a breach in progress.
As IT and OT systems converge, the traditional air gap that separates IT from OT is being replaced by network segmentation and a firewall that has knowledge of OT protocols and can inspect OT data packets for potentially malicious content. This is essential to protect legacy OT systems from threats initially designed for IT environments but could cause outages or impact safety in the OT environment. It also makes it more difficult for attackers to move laterally in an OT network and compromise additional assets. This is important because the consequences of a successful attack on OT systems are far more severe than those on IT systems.
Detecting threats is essential to preventing attacks, but detection alone is insufficient to prevent cyberattacks against OT environments. Organizations must take proactive measures to protect operational technology to reduce the risk of a cyberattack that could disrupt production, halt energy supplies, or turn off life-saving systems.
Automation plays a crucial role in this effort by increasing the speed and consistency of responses to security incidents. It also helps to minimize the impact of a breach by eliminating manual steps and reducing human error.
However, it’s essential to recognize that implementing security automation requires an iterative process. Rather than automating everything simultaneously, focusing on the processes that will create the most outstanding value and make the most sense for your organization is best.
It lets you track your progress and ensure that your automation delivers the expected benefits. It would help if you started by choosing a solution that allows you to build your playbooks without requiring coding so you can get up and running quickly and easily. Then, determine what goals you want to achieve with automation and create corresponding use cases that can be demonstrated internally.
To get more insights on how to effectively implement cyber security in your company, it’s best to take up an online course about it. There’s a plethora of online training programs nowadays– from an SQL training course to a certified cyber security online course– so it shouldn’t be difficult to find one that is best for your business