Intelligent systems must incorporate robust cybersecurity measures to prevent threats and security breaches in operational technology.
For the first twenty years of the dot com era, operational technology (OT) in power plants and factories were not incorporated with IT systems for the most part. While the caution and awareness of security breaches increased among IT users and professionals, operators and supervisors of operational technology paid more attention to safety precautions that mitigated the risks of occupational health hazards.
However, in last 10 years, the business case for integrating OT systems with the IT systems used for supporting other business processes has gotten stronger such that organizations are swiftly embarking on projects to implement this connection. This has resulted in direct links and communication between IT systems and operational technology. This digital transformation agenda has led to improved operational efficiency through intelligent automation, optimization of output and extraction of insightful data. A significant part of cars is now made of software components that enhance a driver’s experience. Production factories are utilizing smart manufacturing and IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) to convert raw materials to finished products faster.
The cost savings of bringing OT systems online may however pale in comparison to the cost implications of a system breach. OT cyberattacks can cause reputational damage to businesses and even lead to wide scale industrial disasters such as a pipeline explosion or municipal water supply system poisoning as seen in several news reports.
Digital transformation and interconnected systems will increase the risk of cyberattacks. Trusted tools, policies and processes must be utilized in protecting digital systems and as a result prevent possible damage to lives and property.
Preventing Cyberattacks Against Operational Technology
The best defense against a cyberattack to stop the attack in its tracks before it happens. In OT systems, preventative controls include but are not limited to applying a zero-trust architecture, utilizing identity access management (IAM), leveraging vulnerability management solutions, and implementing network segmentation. Every method is domiciled in the zero-trust concept, with a clear objective of erecting barriers and placing safeguards along every step to be taken by the hacker.
Detecting Early Warning Signs of Operational Technology Cyberattacks
Regardless of an effective zero-trust security architecture. Early detection is important if there will be any mitigation of the level of damage done by an attacker. To easily detect an imminent attack of your OT there is a need for a continuous monitoring system that many businesses used in their IT landscape over the past 10 years. The monitoring should be continuous and designed to detect imminent malicious activity. This method should also be thought to workers to enable early detection and investigation of potential breaches.
Responding to Operational Technology Cyber Breaches
An organization must be alert and ready to respond to an attacker’s beach of an OT system. An incident response plan that focuses on cutting off the attacker and remediating any damage should be implemented with an overall outlook on safety.
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Olamide is a technology consultant with cognate experience providing digital transformation services for small and large-scale clients globally. With a focus on emerging technologies like IoT, Extended Reality, Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence, he has spent three years developing numerous articles on these knowledge areas for different platforms online and offline.
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