Operational technology (OT) systems are becoming known. This is due to its link to the internet, which creates new security risks. The security challenges and risks of OT differ from those of IT systems. Also, OT systems are more brutal to mitigate.
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In recent years, there have been many high-profile attacks on OT systems. The most notable is the attack on the Ukrainian power grid in 2015 caused a widespread blackout.
A closed system without an internet connection was where OT was once used. But as the globe has grown more interconnected, OT has come to gain more users in these systems. But, this has led to many new challenges, as OT is now more exposed to cyber threats.
The growing number of attacks on OT systems increases the need for better security. This article will discuss the security challenges and risks linked to OT. This also includes how to mitigate them.
What is Operational Technology (OT)?
Operational Technology (OT) refers to the hardware and software used to control and track industrial processes. This includes everything from the machines to the systems that contain a power plant. It operates in a mission-critical safe space where uptime is crucial.
While OT has been around for many years, it has recently attracted more attention from firms. This is due to the growing importance of Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IoT). They are transforming the way that businesses operate.
Potential Security Risks Associated With OT
As the use of OT continues to grow, so too do the risks. Because of their links to critical facilities, they are a prime target for attackers. These attacks can come from many sources, including nation-states, disgruntled insiders, etc.
So, below are a few of the risks associated with OT but not limited to:
- Human Error
This is one of the most common security risks associated with OT systems. This is because OT systems are highly automated and need little operator input. But, human error can still occur due to incorrect input or careless actions.
Employees may not be made aware of the value of security precautions. As a result, they may make mistakes that can risk the system’s safety.
For example, an operator may connect to a malicious server. Or a programmer may introduce errors into the code that attackers can exploit. In some cases, human error can even cause physical damage to equipment.
- Third-Party Risks
Third-party risks are security risks associated with OT systems. These risks are a type of security risk linked to the use of outsourced services or products. It may include OT vulnerability management in the software or hardware used by the provider.
When a firm uses a third-party service or product, they trust that third party to provide a safe service. But when the vendor fails to meet this trust, it will lead to data breaches or other issues.
Many factors can result in third-party risks. This includes poor vendor management or inadequate incident response plans. As firms rely on outsourced services, they must be aware of these risks.
- Unsecured Communications
Unsecured communication between devices is also a concern in OT systems. This is because attackers can use it to gain access to the system. This is often referred to as the “attack surface.”
Once an attacker has access, they can then launch attacks that could disable the system. This can even cause physical damage to industrial control systems (ICS).
- Lack of Physical Security
Physical security controls are vital to any OT system. They are there to detect and delay unwanted access to facilities and equipment. When these controls are not in place, it creates a security risk for the organization.
One of the most common physical security risks is a lack of access control. Anyone can enter the facility without being properly screened or monitored. This can allow anyone to enter the premises and access sensitive data or equipment.
Another physical security risk is poor lighting. This can make it difficult to see potential threats. As a result, it makes it easier for criminals to operate undetected.
- Malicious Insiders
Malicious insiders are a significant security risk associated with OT. Employees can access the OT systems and use their knowledge to cause harm. Their actions can lead to production downtime and financial losses. They can also trade secrets, harming a company’s competitive edge.
How to Mitigate OT Security Risks
In today’s world, data is one of the most crucial assets businesses have. And with the rise of new tech, firms move client data collection online. But, unfortunately, as our lives move online, the risks to our security also grow. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of OT.
Despite this, OT systems are often left vulnerable to attack. This is partly due to their complex nature. Also, they are usually built on legacy systems designed with security in mind.
So what can we do to mitigate the risks posed by OT systems? Read on to learn what you need to secure these critical systems.
- Install a Security Management System
One way to reduce OT security risks is by implementing a security management system. And focusing on patch and vulnerability management is one way to do this. But you need to understand the difference between patch management vs. vulnerability management.
This will help you know how these two can work together to improve the security of the OT system. Both patch and vulnerability management are vital security aspects. They serve different purposes.
Patch management is more effective at fixing known flaws. But it can also take time to keep up with all the latest updates. Vulnerability management is more effective at identifying new flaws. But it can also take time to assess the risk of each one.
This is why vulnerability management best practices use both security management systems. Using both, you can better secure your system against known and unknown flaws.
- Identify and Classify Assets
When it comes to OT security, one of the first things you need to do is identify and classify your assets. This is crucial because it will help you know which assets are most critical to your tasks. Also, which one is at the greatest risk of attack?
Once you understand your assets well, you can start to reduce the associated risks. There are many ways to classify assets, but the CIA triad is one of the most common.
This model groups assets based on their confidentiality, integrity, and availability. This model has also known to be one of the vulnerability management best practices.
Once you have grouped your assets, you can start with your security measures to protect them. This may include things like encryption, access control, and backups.
- Conduct a Security Risk Assessment
Firms’ security is multi-faceted; a crucial part of security is conducting risk assessments. A security risk assessment (SRA) clarifies any system’s security patch. SRA allows you to develop a tailored security program. But, as a vulnerability management best practice, it is a goal to conduct it always as threats changes.
When conducting an SRA, it is vital to consider all aspects of the firm’s security. This may include physical safety, network security, and employee security. You can also develop a more detailed security program by taking a perfect means to security.
- Install Security Controls
As more companies move towards Industry 4.0, they rely on OT to run their businesses. But, this shift comes with new security risks you need to know. OT security risks can destroy a firm, leading to production shutdowns and data loss. It can even cause physical damage.
One way to mitigate these risks is to install security controls. Security controls are measures that experts in the vulnerability management best practices field do take to protect OT systems. These measures help OT systems to withstand threats from attackers.
Some standard security controls include firewalls, access control lists, and intrusion detection systems.
- Train Employees
As the world becomes digital, firms face new security risks, especially with an OT system. One way to reduce these risks is to train staff on vulnerability management best practices. By doing this, workers will be better equipped to detect and defend against viable threats.
There are a few things to keep in mind when training employees:
- Ensure you tailor the training to your firm’s specific needs.
- Consider a detailed approach to train that includes both online and in-person factors. This will allow employees to learn in the way that best suits them.
- Ensure to provide employees with current training that keeps them up on time.
- Disaster Recovery
As society relies on tech, the risk of cyberattacks and other digital threats grows. One way to reduce these risks is through disaster recovery planning.
Disaster recovery is the process of recovering from a major event. This can include anything from data loss to a physical breach. By having a disaster recovery plan in place, firms can deduce the impact of a disaster. This approach will help them get back up and run faster.
Disaster recovery is often known as a way to tackle natural disasters, but you also use it to defend against cyberattacks. By having a plan in place, firms can ensure that their data and systems are well protected in the event of an attack.
The challenges and risks associated with OT are evolving. And it is crucial for security professionals to stay up-to-date on the latest threats. The most common risks include unauthorized access, data breaches, and malware.
Security experts should install strong security measures. This includes access control, activity monitoring, and data encryption to reduce these risks.