If you own an automatic product manufacturing plant, you must learn its best practices to protect your production operations from cyber threats.
Digital and information technology have penetrated every business, including real goods manufacturing. Factories now house automatic machines, robotic arms, actuators, and sensors connected to the intranet or internet.
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has accelerated the adoption of digital technologies in critical manufacturing and utility control processes.
With network and digital technologies, the risk of external or internal cyber threats increases manifold. Here comes operational technology (OT) security for manufacturing processes. Read on to learn more!
What Is Operational Technology (OT) Security?
To understand operational technology (OT) security, you must first know what an OT is.
Operational technology is the standard that uses software and hardware to oversee and control real-world manufacturing processes, factory devices, production plant machines, and the overall industrial infrastructure.
OT mainly controls mechanical arms, service robots, conveyor belts, various environmental input sensors, security camera systems, the flow of liquid, the flow of fuel, and so on.
Now that you know what OT in industrial manufacturing is, it is easy to understand what could be operational technology security. Yes, you guessed it right! It is the information and hardware technology process to secure all the digital and analog systems of an OT, mainly industrial control systems.
In OT security, businesses employ various hardware like IoT device shields for IoT security, network filters, network loggers, hardware firewalls, biometric scanners, encrypted internal storage devices, and so on.
Similarly, it also deploys various cyber security software to defend the facility against targeted hacking attacks. If not hacking, bad actors may try to disable the manufacturing plant by crippling process equipment.
Since industrial manufacturing or operations require continuous production, a few hours of disruption may cause you millions of dollars. And OT security protects against such attacks and ensures industrial systems operate round the clock.
And not just protects hardware, software, IIoT devices, sensors, and automated machines from cyber threats, but OT security can modify systems to bring back the manufacturing system in its ideal state.
Why Is Operational Technology (OT) Security Important?
Before the internet era, your organizational OT assets were not connected to the internet. As a result, those were free from new-age threats like ransomware attacks, malware, and hacking attacks. However, the scenario is completely opposite now.
Besides, IT-OT convergence expansion led to adding point solutions to business infrastructure. Hence, complex system networks often do not share the full visibility needed for management.
These above issues make it challenging to control and manage operational technology. Its security becomes important because of the following points:
#1. Protection Against Cyber Attacks
OT security detects system changes through relentless monitoring and prevents cyberattacks on industrial networks. Thus, it protects mission-critical information used in a business from falling into the wrong hands.
#2. Business Continuity
No matter what, modern-day businesses can not afford to stop their operations, including transportation and communications. One minute of downtime can cause inconvenience to consumers and harm the company’s reputation.
OT security ensures that these businesses continue their operations and have an undisrupted business flow.
Operational Technology (OT) Security Best Practices
Operational technologies and their security solutions vary widely from business to business. However, these are some best practices that should be part of your OT security strategy:
OT Asset Discovery
Most operational technology networks are highly complicated. Hence, businesses do not have complete visibility into OT resources. This situation gets more complicated when an OT network operates over multiple sites across geographic locations.
To resolve this problem, an OT security strategy must include OT device or asset discovery. Thus, companies can get complete visibility into the assets and protect the operational technology networks.
In the early days, IT and OT networks used to be physically disconnected from each other. This network gap between IT and OT used to function as the protector of operational technology networks. Though this approach does not offer perfect protection against online threats, it makes it difficult for attackers to attack OT networks, thereby OT assets.
Now, when it comes to IT and OT networks converging, businesses need to replace the network gap to safeguard legacy systems that should not be connected to the Internet for security reasons. Through network segmentation, enterprises can isolate the assets within the network.
Enabling a firewall with OT protocol knowledge will empower them to inspect potentially malicious commands or content. This also helps with access control enforcement across OT network segments.
OT Threat Prevention
The security strategies for OT are usually detection-focused. The reason is that threat prevention tools have the chance to detect false positive errors. Imagine how incorrectly labeling a legitimate operation malicious will impact the system’s performance and availability.
Therefore, OT security used to be reactive to attacks, and infections were resolved at a convenient time. This led to malware-infected OT systems threatening uninterrupted operation.
The best practice in such cases is to deploy OT threat prevention. Thus, companies can secure their OT assets in a better way, even at a time when cyberattacks are increasing. It helps with precise attack detection and blocking to minimize threats.
Control Identity and Access Management
Any compromise in terms of identity and access controls can be physically destructive to the organizations. These can also harm human safety.
So, IT environments should double-verify the identity of every user. Moreover, every employee should be granted access to resources according to their roles and requirements. These will automatically stop any kind of unauthorized access to the company resources and crucial user data.
Go for a Zero-Trust Framework
Zero-trust policy means assuming any user, device, or network to be a threat until it is authenticated. Organizations need to adopt the zero trust framework with elements like multifactor authentication.
Look for Suspicious Activity in the Ecosystem
Any security measure could become vulnerable to cyberattacks. Therefore, companies should always search for anomalous or unusual network activity, including traffic from vendors and service providers. This practice can reduce security risks and maintain a solid security posture.
Train Your Workforce
No security strategy will work if your workforce is unaware of their responsibilities. So, you need to make your employees understand the types of threats they can expect and what they should do to avoid these.
ICS and SCADA Operational Technology (OT)
ICS means industrial control systems, and SCADA is a type of ICS. ICS is one of the main elements of a full-service operational technology. It includes many moving and non-moving parts like computers, networks, networking equipment, manufacturing vessels, automated sensors, security cameras, robotic arms, fire extinguishers, and more.
And, not just hardware, it also includes various programs that control these systems. ICS must run daily throughout the year and can not be shut down for security patch installation. Here, OT security provides real-time protection to ICS.
A part of ICS, SCADA, or supervisory control and data acquisition, is a bundle of apps and packages that can control an entire factory from one computer screen. ICS is more like a combination of hardware and software.
SCADA is simply software, and it is the central tool that controls everything in a manufacturing facility. SCADA communicates between production facilities in different locations and exposes them to online risks. For SCADA, you need robust encryption and hardware-based network filters to keep hackers at bay.
IT Vs. OT Security
At workplaces, on websites, in apps, etc.
Deployed in manufacturing plants, utility control facilities, airport baggage handling, waste management plants, etc.
Always use state-of-the-art security encryption and protocols
Mostly use outdated technology since these are less exposed
Always exposed to the public internet
OT security handles intranet cyber threats and is often not exposed to the public internet
Antivirus, security patches, encryption, authentication, captcha, OTP, 2FA, etc.
Hardware security like IIOT protection shields, network switches with firewalls, biometric scanners, security cameras with OCR and face recognition, motion sensor, fire alarm, fire extinguisher, etc.
IT security protects data, credentials, identity, assets, money, etc.
OT security protects industry machinery, access doors, inventory, command codes, manufacturing processes, etc.
IT and OT Convergence
Before big data analytics, IoT, etc., IT and OT systems were separate entities in the same organization. It deals with internet-linked stuff like browsing websites, sending emails, VoIP calling, video calls, chat messaging, document sharing, etc. Contrarily, OT controls all big to small equipment needed to run a manufacturing plant.
But, the adoption of big data and IoT changed how OT and IT interact with each other. Now, businesses need to mix both OT and IT networks to gather real-time data from factories to create performance reports or for critical decision-making.
This is known as IT and OT convergence, which calls for robust data and systems security for the entire organization, including goods processing or manufacturing plants.
#1. Operational Technology Security: A Complete Guide
This book can offer guidance on cybersecurity best practices that you must follow for OT security. With the help of the questions it raises, you can uncover the challenges of Operational Technology Security and figure out the solutions.
This is not a textbook, so it is better not to expect it to teach theories. Instead, this resource will tell you the importance of asking the right question to figure out the problems and their resolutions.
After reading it, you can use standard diagnostic practices for OT security initiatives, projects, processes, and businesses. Furthermore, it will help you implement evidence-based latest advances in the practice.
#2. OT Operational Technology Third Edition
Reading this book, you can figure out if your business is ready for the connected enterprise or what OT assets you are most concerned about in terms of cyber threats.
With this book, you will also get access to digital self-assessment components for operational technology. It also enables you to determine what is most important for your organization and lead it with that.
#3. Fundamentals of OT Cybersecurity (ICS/SCADA)
As the name suggests, the Udemy course on OT cybersecurity curriculum contains the fundamental concepts of OT cybersecurity. It has been particularly designed for cybersecurity professionals who want to learn such concepts.
Besides introducing you to the operational technology of cybersecurity, it will also familiarize you with the OT terminology, SCADA, and Distributed Control Systems. Moreover, you will learn about Industrial Control Systems (ICS,) logical design and components of OT, and its network protocols.
Other elements of the course curriculum include Modbus analysis, IT / OT gap and convergence, OT cybersecurity controls, Modbus Packet Analysis – LAB, and simple Virtual PLC – HMI – LAB.
Those who want to enroll in this course should have general IT cybersecurity knowledge. The course length is 5 hours. It has a total of 111 lectures that you can access via mobile and TV, and you can also download 6 resources. After completing the course, you will also get a certificate.
#4. Cyber Security Operations and Technology Solutions
This Udemy course on Cyber Security Operations and Technology Solutions will teach you about the operations and technology solutions to cyber security. Thus, the participants will be capable of detecting and responding to cybersecurity incidents.
This course also makes you familiar with the primary objectives of the security operations center (SOC,) the daily job responsibilities of a SOC analyst, and the five functions of the NIST cybersecurity framework.
It will also help you understand sources and scenarios of cyber security events, appropriate response actions, and phases of incident response. Categorizing cyber security vendors of the security domains addressed by their specific products.
It is suitable for IT Professionals, wannabe cyber security interns, college graduates, and cyber enthusiasts. The course consists of 60 lectures of more than 4 hours.
To successfully complete this course, you need to have a basic understanding of IT concepts. The course material is available in English and offers subtitles in English and French.
Industrial control systems are supercritical processes that combine many complex hardware and software. Though it has really low digital traffic through its networking systems because most ICS are isolated systems, you would not know if a hacker has targeted your business and exploited intranet loopholes to infiltrate the ICS or SCADA to cripple the production facility.
ICS cyber threats are increasing throughout the world, either with the motive of business competition or inter-governmental rivalry. Whatever the case, you must implement operational technology best practices now to save your production facility from cyber threats.
Tamal is a freelance writer at Geekflare. After completing his MS in Science, he joined reputed IT consultancy companies to acquire hands-on knowledge of IT technologies and business management. Now, he’s a professional freelance content… read more