Protecting Your Organisation: Introduction to Operational Technology Cybersecurity 

In recent years, the acceleration of digital transformation has promoted the convergence of corporate/information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) networks and opened up a realm of opportunities for organisations.  

IT/Corporate networks encompass an organisation’s computing, networking, and information management aspects, whereas OT networks support devices that monitor and control physical processes and equipment that have safety and physical impacts on an organisation’s operations. Often, the OT and IT networks are physically separate and distinct. However, more recently, we have observed the desire to integrate both the IT/Corporate and OT network environments in an effort to reduce costs, enhance productivity, and gain a competitive edge.  

However, along with this desire to achieve tangible benefits, significant cybersecurity challenges arise that must be properly addressed to safeguard critical networks and assets. 

Cybercriminals seek to exploit vulnerabilities in corporate/IT networks as an attack vector or pathway to access critical OT systems. The consequences of such breaches can be severe, ranging from financial losses to compromised public safety. Attacks on power grids, shipping lines, manufacturing plants, and other facilities are steadily increasing. 

At Nextro, we understand that as organisations embark on their digital transformation journey to increase efficiency and enhance productivity while seeking to reduce costs, it is crucial to implement robust cybersecurity measures tailored to the unique requirements of OT environments.  

This applies whether an organisation has a physically distinct and separate OT network (from the IT/corporate network) or operates a converged/integrated OT/IT/Corporate network.  

This blog post covers the main steps organisations can take to secure their OT environment, whether separate or integrated with the IT/corporate network environment.   

Cyberthreats to Operation Technology 

Traditionally kept separate, the integration of IT/corporate and OT networks has become increasingly common, driven by the promise of improved efficiency and competitiveness. However, this convergence also brings heightened exposure to cyber intrusions. 

Recent Fortinet surveys reveal alarming statistics. 93% of organisations surveyed experienced intrusions in the past year, highlighting the pervasive nature of cyber threats in OT environments. To address these risks, investments in IT/corporate networks and OT security technologies are on the rise, showing the increasing prioritisation of OT security. 

When controls for physical equipment connect to enterprise computer networks and the cloud, the digital attack surface expands, allowing cyber attackers to penetrate industrial organisations in new ways. 

Attackers are gaining expertise in OT sabotage. They are developing, selling, and buying specialised toolsets designed to penetrate OT protocols and equipment. 

Rogue nation-states are the biggest threat actors and have consistently demonstrated the ability to inflict damage on both local and global scales. 

Cybersecurity Solutions for OT environments  

Securing OT environments may initially seem daunting, but organisations can mitigate risks through incremental steps toward a robust security posture.  

Historically, organisations have prioritised OT functionality over security, leading to a lack of basic security hygiene practices. It is crucial for organisations to embed safety and security as fundamental components of their operations, fostering a culture of best practice adoption throughout the organisation. 

Cybercriminals often exploit common attack vectors, such as spear phishing, compromised endpoints, and stolen credentials, to infiltrate OT environments. Implementing measures like two-factor authentication, ongoing employee security education, and continuous system and border monitoring for indicators of compromise (IOCs) is essential to thwarting these threats.  

To ensure the safety of their OT networks, organisations must implement a thorough security approach to quickly identify and remove access to critical and highly valued OT assets. This proactive security needs to be engineered directly into the OT environment planning, not only adopted after attacks.  

Key Steps for Enhanced Security 

At Nextro, we have put together five important steps to guide organisations through their OT security transformation.  
1. Gain Full Visibility: Develop a thorough inventory of digital assets across IT and OT environments to understand the security landscape fully. Identify users, applications, devices, and systems to lay the foundation for a robust security architecture. 

2. Segment the Network: Implement network segmentation to create security boundaries restricting unauthorised access. By dividing the network into functional segments and controlling communication between them, organisations can minimise the attack surface and limit the lateral movement of threats. 

3. Monitor and Control Access: Authenticate and authorise devices, users, and applications before granting access to resources. Adopt a zero-trust approach to security, continually verifying identities and enforcing access policies. 

4. Implement Proactive Measures: Stay ahead of evolving threats by deploying proactive security measures that pre-emptively identify and prevent potential attacks. Embrace automation to streamline security operations and respond swiftly to incidents. 

5. Streamline Security Operations: Establish a comprehensive cybersecurity operation integrating network and security operations across network and OT environments. Organisations can achieve optimal security outcomes by converging NOC and SOC functions and leveraging automation. 

The Path Forward 

As organisations navigate the complexities of IT and OT convergence, the Fortinet Security Fabric provides a roadmap to a secure and resilient future. By deploying security measures in alignment with industry standards and best practices, organisations can strengthen their defence against cyber threats and safeguard their digital assets effectively. 

In conclusion, prioritising operational technology cybersecurity is essential for organisations leveraging digital transformation to drive innovation and growth. By adopting a proactive and comprehensive approach to physical and cyber security, organisations can mitigate risks, protect critical infrastructure, and ensure a secure foundation for future success. 

Nextro’s OT Cybersecurity Solutions 

At Nextro, we offer comprehensive physical and cybersecurity solutions designed to effectively protect interconnected IT and OT infrastructure. By integrating security across the entire attack surface, sharing threat intelligence between security products, and automating responses to threats, Nextro solutions empower organisations to bolster their security posture and mitigate risks.  

If you want to know more about how to start your OT security transformation, get in touch with our team now.