OT Security

What is OT Security?

Operational Technology security, also known as OT security, is a set of measures and practices designed to protect critical infrastructure and industrial control systems (ICS) from cyber threats. It involves implementing comprehensive security protocols tailored to safeguard technology and processes in various sectors such as manufacturing, energy, transportation, and healthcare.

As industrial systems become increasingly digitally connected, the risk of cyberattacks targeting operational technology has significantly increased. Successful attacks can cause operational disruptions, compromise safety, and lead to substantial financial losses.

Despite the importance of OT security, organizations still face notable challenges when implementing:

  • Outdated systems, initially lacking security considerations, expose vulnerabilities to potential attacks. These systems often lack updated security features, making them vulnerable to cybercriminal exploitation.
  • The convergence of IT and OT networks introduces fresh avenues for attacks, leveraging weaknesses in one network to compromise the other.
  • OT environments’ complexity and interconnected nature pose difficulties in detecting and responding to cyber threats effectively.

As operational technology becomes more interconnected and digitized, the need for strong OT security measures becomes increasingly urgent.


What are the Elements of Operational Technology?

OT encompasses the hardware and software systems essential for monitoring and controlling physical processes across various industries, including manufacturing, energy, transportation, and healthcare. In contrast to Information Technology (IT), which centers on data processing and information management, OT is purpose-built for interaction with the physical world.

Key components of OT systems include:

  • Sensors and Actuators: Devices responsible for gathering data from the physical environment and initiating actions based on that data. Examples include temperature sensors, pressure sensors, motors, valves, and more.
  • Control Systems: Systems that receive data from sensors, make decisions, and regulate physical processes. This category comprises Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), Distributed Control Systems (DCS), and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems.
  • Network Infrastructure: OT systems depend on a network infrastructure to connect different components and facilitate communication. This involves wired and wireless networks, switches, routers, and firewalls.
  • Human-Machine Interfaces (HMIs): Interfaces providing a visual representation of the OT system, allowing operators to monitor and interact with it. HMIs include touchscreens, monitors, and control panels.

Securing each element of an OT system is crucial, as a security lapse in one component can render the entire system vulnerable to cyber threats. Potential consequences include operational disruptions, safety hazards, and data breaches. Robust security measures, such as network segmentation, access controls, encryption, and regular updates, are vital to protecting OT systems and ensuring the safety and reliability of operations.


What’s the Difference Between IT and OT Security?

Understanding the disparities between Information Technology and Operational Technology is crucial in the cybersecurity realm. While both are integral to organizational operations, they possess distinct characteristics and cybersecurity requirements.

IT primarily concentrates on managing, storing, and transmitting digital information within an organization’s network, encompassing areas like computer systems, software development, data management, and network infrastructure. IT’s primary goal is to ensure data availability, integrity, and confidentiality.

On the other hand, OT deals with the control and monitoring of physical processes and devices in industries such as manufacturing, energy, transportation, and healthcare. OT systems encompass industrial control systems (ICS), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), and other technologies directly impacting operational processes.

A key difference between IT and OT lies in connectivity. While IT systems are typically connected to the internet and external networks, OT systems are often isolated or possess limited connectivity for security reasons. This historical isolation traditionally shielded OT from cyber threats. However, with the increasing convergence of IT and OT, the cybersecurity landscape has evolved significantly.

The amalgamation of IT and OT introduces new cybersecurity challenges. These systems have distinct objectives, architectures, and lifecycles, resulting in unique cybersecurity requirements. IT systems primarily focus on data protection and preventing unauthorized access, while OT systems prioritize the safety, reliability, and availability of physical processes.

Securing the convergence of IT and OT demands a holistic approach, acknowledging the unique characteristics of both domains. It involves understanding interdependencies, identifying vulnerabilities, implementing suitable security controls, and ensuring continuous monitoring and response.


OT Security Best Practices

Securing OT systems requires following essential practices to thwart potential cyber threats. Focusing on three key areas significantly fortifies OT security:

  1. Implementing Access Controls and User Authentication: It’s crucial to enforce strong access controls and user authentication. This involves assigning unique user accounts and robust passwords. Additionally, employing multi-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security by requiring multiple forms of verification.
  2. Network Segmentation and Isolation: Segmenting the OT network into smaller, isolated sections helps contain breaches and limits the spread of attacks within the network. This practice separates critical assets from non-critical ones, minimizing the attack surface and safeguarding sensitive information.
  3. Regular Patching and Updates: Consistently updating and patching OT systems is vital to address vulnerabilities and defend against known exploits. Keeping track of vendor updates, security advisories, and specific patches for OT devices and applications is essential. Establishing a patch management process ensures timely deployment of updates while minimizing disruptions to critical operations.


Choosing the Right OT Security Vendor

When it comes to securing your Operational Technology infrastructure, choosing the right OT security vendor is critical. Given the escalating number of cyber threats directed at industrial systems, selecting a vendor who can meet your specific security needs and offer effective solutions is essential.

Consider the following crucial factors when deciding on an OT security vendor:

  • Expertise and Track Record: Opt for a vendor with a proven track record in OT security. Consider their experience collaborating with organizations in your industry and their understanding of the distinctive challenges encountered by industrial systems.
  • Comprehensive Security Offerings: Evaluate the vendor’s array of security solutions. Ensure they present a comprehensive suite of offerings covering all facets of OT security, including network monitoring, vulnerability assessments, threat detection, and incident response.
  • Scalability and Adaptability: Recognize that your OT security needs may change as your organization expands. Select a vendor capable of scaling their solutions to accommodate your evolving requirements. Flexibility in deployment options, such as on-premises and cloud-based solutions, is also crucial.
  • Proactive Threat Intelligence: Look for a vendor that stays abreast of emerging threats, providing regular updates and patches. Proactive threat intelligence ensures the protection of your OT systems against the latest vulnerabilities and attacks.
  • Integration Capabilities: Assess the vendor’s ability to integrate seamlessly with your existing OT infrastructure and security tools. Smooth integration facilitates efficient management and monitoring of security throughout your entire network.


How Does Forescout Help with OT Security?

Forescout’s agentless security solution plays a crucial role in enhancing overall security by promptly identifying and evaluating networked devices and applications the moment they connect to the network. Employing non-disruptive approaches, Forescout extends its visibility from campus and data center networks to virtual servers, the cloud, and even the OT environment. This expanded visibility enables organizations to identify devices that require passive monitoring and take proactive measures to secure those capable of supporting additional security controls.

Forescout’s capabilities extend beyond mere identification, as it also shares relevant data with existing security and system management tools, augmenting the overall security profile and maximizing the value of existing investments. The platform employs various non-disruptive data capture methods from network devices like switches, firewalls, VPN concentrators, and wireless controllers. These devices are integral components of operational workstations and supervisory controllers, such as SCADA servers and HMI stations in OT networks.

Utilizing the captured data, Forescout excels in discovering connected devices, classifying them by type, identifying users and applications, assessing device hygiene, and continuously monitoring their security posture. Armed with this information, Forescout seamlessly integrates with layered Forescout and customer-defined policies to take appropriate actions and secure the network effectively. This comprehensive approach ensures that organizations have real-time insights into their networked environment and can respond proactively to potential security threats.

Do you know what’s on your OT network? Request a personalized demo.

Demo RequestForescout PlatformTop of Page