June 19, 2024

Operational Technology Security: Protecting Critical Infrastructure from Cyber Threats

Operational technology (Operational Technology ) systems play a crucial role in managing and controlling industrial processes and physical infrastructure. However, the security of these systems has often been overlooked, leaving critical infrastructure vulnerable to cyberattacks. In this article, we will explore the importance of Operational Technology  security and recommend best practices for protecting industrial control systems.

Operational technology refers to hardware and software that detects or causes a change through the direct monitoring and/or control of physical devices, processes and events in the enterprise. Operational Technology  systems are found across many industries including manufacturing, energy, water and wastewater, transportation and more. Some common Operational Technology  systems include supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, distributed control systems (DCS), physical access control systems and video surveillance systems.

These Operational Technology  networks often run older legacy devices that were designed without security in mind. As a result, they have been increasingly targeted by cybercriminals and nation-state actors looking to disrupt critical services or infrastructure. High-profile attacks like Stuxnet, Triton and Industroyer have demonstrated that Operational Technology  networks are vulnerable and that even basic exploits could have real-world consequences. This highlights the importance of securing Operational Technology  environments against modern cyber threats.

Importance of Operational Technology  Security

Securing Operational Technology  systems is crucial because any disruption to these networks can negatively impact safety, the environment and public health. Common consequences of unsecured Operational Technology  systems include:

– Physical damage or injury: Attacks can manipulate control systems to damage physical assets like turbines, pumps or to disrupt safety systems. This poses risks to personnel safety.

– Environmental harm:Manipulation of industrial processes may cause spills, leaks or releases that damage the environment. Examples include wastewater treatment plants or oil pipelines.

– Loss of services: Critical services like power, water distribution or transportation could be disrupted, impacting public health and safety as well as the economy.

– Theft of intellectual property:Sensitive operational data and designs from manufacturing plants could be stolen through unsecured Operational Technology  networks.

– Cascading impacts: Issues in one system can potentially spread to others through interconnected infrastructure, multiplying impacts across sectors.

Securing Operational Technology  networks is no longer just an afterthought – it requires a proactive, strategic approach given the severity of consequences from modern threats targeting these systems. Organizations must make Operational Technology  security a priority equal to IT security.

Challenges of Securing Operational Technology

While securing Operational Technology  systems is clearly important, there are also unique technical and operational challenges that make it more complex than traditional IT security:

– Legacy systems: Many Operational Technology  devices run on antiquated, unsupported operating systems without necessary security features. Upgrades are difficult.

– Availability needs: Operational Technology  systems have strict uptime requirements due to 24/7 processes, so security controls cannot impact availability or functionality.

– Different environments: Operational Technology  environments have specific ICS protocols, real-time constraints and safety/reliability needs differing from IT.

– Unknown vulnerabilities: Operational Technology  devices often have unknown vulnerabilities or patches due to lack of information from vendors.

– Limited resources: Operational Technology  teams may lack Security expertise, budgets, staff or authority compared to centralized IT teams.

– Interconnectedness: Operational Technology  networks are highly interconnected on site and externally, increasing the attack surface.

– Process safety: Changes must ensure process/personnel safety which requires control validation and risk assessment.

These challenges require a tailored approach to Operational Technology  security that accounts for operational needs while still protecting these crucial systems. A balanced, risk-based strategy is required.

Recommended Operational Technology  Security Best Practices

Based on the technical and operational challenges, below are some best practices that organizations should adopt as part of a comprehensive Operational Technology  security program:

Segmentation: Physically or logically segmenting Operational Technology  networks from enterprise IT and the internet significantly reduces the attack surface. Use firewalls and restrict access.

Access control: Implement multi-factor authentication, account management practices and restrict access based on user roles and a need-to-know basis. Monitor and log access.

Network monitoring: Deploy intrusion detection/prevention systems tailored to ICS to monitor for anomalies, threats and abnormalities that could indicate cyber incidents.

Patch management: Develop a controlled, risk-assessed process for evaluating, testing and deploying critical OS and firmware updates while ensuring no impacts to safety or availability. Prioritize highest risks.

Device hardening: Disable unnecessary ports, services, protocols and default credentials on devices. Implement principle of least functionality based on operations.

Documentation: Maintain accurate, up-to-date systems documentation including assets, architectures, configurations and known vulnerabilities to support security operations and incident response.

Incident response: Create an Operational Technology -focused incident response plan detailing roles, communication protocols, indicators and response procedures. Practice through tabletop exercises.

Employee training: Educate Operational Technology  staff on cybersecurity basics and their role through tailored, hands-on security awareness programs to foster a security-minded culture.

Executive support: Gain ongoing executive buy-in and support for necessary budgets, staffing and change management to implement a secure Operational Technology  program appropriately resourced by the organization.

Partnerships: Collaborate with Operational Technology  vendors, integration partners, external consultants and peer organizations to share threat intelligence, strengthen security capabilities and work through challenges posed by legacy assets still requiring protection.

As threats to Operational Technology  systems grow more advanced and disruptive, a strategic, risk-based approach to operational technology security has become mission-critical for critical infrastructure owners and operators. Adopting the security best practices outlined here can help strengthen organizations’ ability to protect Operational Technology  environments, the physical processes they control and public safety from cyber risks. With diligent security programs, industrial organizations can better balance operational needs with cybersecurity to manage risks in today’s evolving threat landscape.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it