Five OT Cybersecurity Practices that Should be on every Manufacturer’s Radar

Operational technology (OT) systems play a critical role in the manufacturing industry, but as the trend of digitization continues, the risks associated with these systems are increasing. As industrial control systems (ICS) become increasingly connected to the internet, the chances of cyber-attacks targeting these systems also increase. Compromised OT systems can have severe consequences such as production downtime, equipment damage, data theft, revenue disruption, and even endangerment of human life.

OT security is inherently different from IT security because OT systems are responsible for controlling and monitoring physical processes, whereas IT systems are designed to manage, store, and secure data. OT systems frequently utilize unique protocols and hardware, and their design often does not prioritize security, making them particularly susceptible to cyber-attacks.

To mitigate the risks associated with OT security, it’s critical for businesses to recognize the distinctions between OT and IT security and take the necessary measures to protect their OT systems. These measures include implementing strong access controls, securing remote access to ICS, regularly installing security patches and updates, and conducting frequent security audits and penetration testing. Furthermore, it is important to establish clear divisions of responsibility between IT and OT teams to guarantee proper attention is given to OT security.

Considering these challenges, businesses must understand the importance of maintaining a strong cybersecurity posture in both IT and OT systems to prevent cyber-attacks and protect their operations. In this blog post, we'll discuss five essential practices that we recommend implementing in order to strengthen your OT security:

1. Start Somewhere: Taking proactive measures to prioritize OT cybersecurity is crucial for businesses. This can entail conducting regular security assessments, implementing multiple layers of security measures, updating software and hardware on a routine basis, training employees on cybersecurity best practices, and implementing an incident response plan.

It is highly recommended for organizations to partner with a reliable digital safety provider to evaluate their current security posture, detect potential vulnerabilities, and implement personalized security solutions. This approach can help safeguard industrial control systems against cyberattacks and ensure smooth and secure operations.

As cyberattacks continue to increase, ignoring the threat of OT cybersecurity is no longer an option for businesses. Starting the journey toward OT security may be challenging, but the initial step is the most critical one.

2. Compile an Accurate Asset Inventory: An asset inventory is a comprehensive list of all the hardware, software, and other resources that make up an organization's OT environment. It is used to identify all ICS systems, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, and other devices that comprise an organization's OT infrastructure.

Compiling an asset inventory is valuable for multiple functions related to visibility, risk assessment, compliance, and incident response. This is an important step in securing an organization's OT environment and should be regularly updated to reflect any changes to the infrastructure. An accurate asset inventory can empower organizations to take appropriate measures to shield against possible security threats.

3. Implement the Proper Digital Safety Measures: Once businesses identify and document their industrial assets and potential risk factors, they can proceed with the implementation of practical and effective digital safety measures. Such measures can include industrial endpoint protection, continuous threat monitoring, secure remote access, adherence to NERC CIP standards relating to the electric power grid and conducting regular penetration testing. Ensuring that you have an incident response plan in place that’s been tested, is also crucial preparation in the event of a breach or adverse event. These security measures can substantially decrease the likelihood of OT cybersecurity breaches and help protect crucial assets and operations.

4. Conduct a Tabletop Exercise: Conducting a tabletop exercise is a valuable approach to prepare an organization to tackle a potential cyber-attack on its industrial assets. It presents an opportunity to assemble all relevant IT and OT stakeholders, as well as executives, to simulate and discuss a realistic security breach scenario. The exercise identifies potential vulnerabilities in the organization's security posture and enables the team to rehearse their response to a security incident.

Involving all stakeholders in the exercise enhances collaboration and understanding between different teams and ensures everyone understands their role in safeguarding the ICS environment. Moreover, the executives' participation in the exercise can raise awareness of the risks and limitations of IT security measures in protecting industrial systems, and the importance of implementing a comprehensive OT security strategy.

5. Establish Roles and Foster a Culture of OT Cybersecurity Awareness: Creating and promoting a culture of cybersecurity awareness is essential to safeguarding OT systems in an organization. That includes consistently training employees on cybersecurity best practices and communicating the significance of their role in protecting the company's digital assets.

Assigning roles and responsibilities and developing a clear plan is necessary to ensure that OT security is adequately managed. The specific duties and titles may differ depending on the organization's size and complexity, but common roles include:

CISO (Chief Information Security Officer): In larger organizations, the CISO oversees the overall security of the organization, including IT and OT security.

CIO (Chief Information Officer): In some organizations, the CIO manages both IT and OT security, delegating duties to other team members when necessary.

Plant Manager: In smaller organizations, the plant manager may assume responsibility for the security of OT/ICS systems.

It is vital that the designated team possess the required skills, knowledge, and resources to manage OT security effectively. This includes understanding the organization's asset inventories, risks, and security requirements, as well as having access to necessary tools and technologies to monitor and manage OT security.

By having a clear plan and a dedicated team in place, organizations can guarantee the security and smooth operation of their OT systems, decreasing the risk of business disruptions and costly shutdowns.

Velta Technology partners with the world's leading industrial technology companies and can seamlessly integrate OT cybersecurity solutions with your existing technologies while providing professional consultation and 24/7 around the clock support if needed. We’re a team of industrial manufacturing and critical infrastructure experts with a diverse range of skills. We look forward to helping you enhance and protect the digital safety of your industrial environment.