Are you aware of the pivotal role CISOs play in defending operational technology (OT) environments? The world of cybersecurity was previously dominated by an IT-centric focus, often overlooking the unique requirements of OT. More recently, escalating cyber threats to industrial plants and the emergence of Industry 4.0 have underscored the importance of taking a proactive approach to OT security. But how can a CISO, typically familiar with the landscape of IT security, adapt and respond to this new challenge? This article is based on the 5th Annual Fortinet State of OT and Cybersecurity Report.

Placing a Premium on Security

The cornerstone of cybersecurity, known as the CIA triad – Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability – is interpreted differently in the OT domain compared to IT. While IT focuses on data protection, OT places utmost priority on the dependability of physical systems. So, how do CISOs strike a balance? The answer lies in implementing robust security measures that shield OT systems from cyber threats, without compromising their functional integrity.

Implementing Robust Segmentation Practices in Security

Have you heard about the Purdue Model? This strategy calls for strict network segmentation, which is vital in both OT and IT environments. However, OT requires a more stringent application of this model due to the higher risks associated with operational disruptions. CISOs need to understand the nuances of these separations to ensure safety, security, and regulatory compliance.

Achieving Zero Downtime

In OT environments, the term ‘always-on’ takes on a new meaning. Unlike IT systems, where updates and patches can be applied during scheduled downtimes, OT systems must remain operational 24/7. Hence, CISOs are faced with the challenge of applying security controls that do not interfere with the ongoing operations of the OT systems.

Solutions for “Always-On” Systems

To solve the “always-on” challenge, CISOs can consider options such as:

  1. Deploying passive monitoring tools that can identify abnormal behavior or potential threats without disrupting the OT environment.
  2. Leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning for predictive maintenance to identify potential system issues before they become critical.
  3. Implementing virtual patching that shields vulnerabilities in systems until a patch can be safely applied.

Overseeing Remote Access Security

In an increasingly interconnected world, every access point to the OT environment needs to be supervised, controlled, and logged. Contrary to IT systems, which thrive on human engagement, OT systems are designed to operate independently. As such, all connections to the OT system, even from within the organization, are treated as external. Industrial secure remote access tools can help monitor and control this access effectively.

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Acknowledging the Limitations of IT Tools

One common mistake CISOs make is attempting to apply IT security tools to OT environments. While these tools are effective in their domain, they often fall short when applied to OT settings. This is primarily due to differences in system operation, cloud-based traffic handling, and frequent updates that are incompatible with OT environments. Therefore, CISOs need to invest in specialized OT security tools designed to cater to the unique requirements of the operational technology domain.

Emphasizing Soft Skills and Continuous Learning

To successfully navigate OT security, CISOs must be open to learning and adapting. This means setting aside familiar IT practices and adopting new strategies better suited to OT. Effective leadership, coupled with a learning mindset, can help CISOs bridge the gap between IT and OT security, leading to a safer and more secure enterprise.

In conclusion, while the challenge of securing OT environments is undeniably complex, a combination of tailored strategies, appropriate tools, and strong leadership can help CISOs effectively protect these crucial systems, facilitating productivity and profitability in the process.