In the last few decades, industries around the globe have seen a major overhaul in the direction of digitization and automation. As the machines got upgraded through industrial control systems (ICS) and operation technology (OT), a new complexity prevailed. Cyberattacks were never as frequent for OT as it is now. 

The modern factories, fitted with the latest generation of ICS, are particularly vulnerable to known IT cybersecurity risks and can be exploited to initiate privilege escalation, DDoS, and MITM attacks. 

Industrial cybersecurity or OT cybersecurity is the protective measure taken by organizations to ensure that industrial control systems and operation technologies are safeguarded from cyber attackers.

OT cybersecurity is vastly different from traditional IT cybersecurity. The focus of IT cybersecurity practices is to maintain privacy, integrity, and availability. But in the case of OT cybersecurity, the focus pivots to the safety of property and human lives. Thus, fundamental changes in the approach are necessary for industrial cybersecurity.

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Industrial Cybersecurity Issues

The issues associated with industrial cybersecurity are: 

Limitations of First and Second Generation ICS

First and second-generation ICS consists of monolithic designs and acts as central control. These ICS are considered isolated and security practices mostly revolve around physical measures like system topologies and component security.

Due to the absence of prominent integration with IT, the first and second-generation ICS are vulnerable to known exploits.  

Vulnerabilities of COTS Technologies

The latest generation of ICS utilizes COTS technology and protocols such as Ethernet and TCP/IP. Due to the nature of these technologies, the weakness, vulnerabilities, and failures in systems have become more noticeable in recent times. 

Due to the latest generation of ICS being more integrated with the corporate for operational and communication purposes, human psychological vulnerabilities are being exploited more than ever.

Limitation of Traditional IT Security Measures in Industries

Traditional IT cybersecurity risks that affect service sectors are also prevalent on top of the other issues mentioned. 

Since OT has converged with mainstream operating systems (OS) long ago, the general cybersecurity issue with outdated software affects the industries in significant ways. As many components like PLCs, relays, and sensors depend on old OS to be programmed and operated optimally, the vulnerabilities of outdated software are still prevalent. 

IT cyber attacks can be mitigated through specific automated rules imposed on the systems or by shutting down the whole operation. 

But as OT and ICS environments behave uniquely, the attacks need to be analyzed and mitigated through OT cybersecurity vendor-Industrial Defender with a calculative approach that doesn’t harm the machinery and production.

Ways to Improve Your Industrial Cybersecurity

Although different from IT cybersecurity, certain aspects of industrial cybersecurity are dependent on traditional approaches. Here are 5 ways to improve your industrial cybersecurity.

  1. Establish Awareness

Almost all cybersecurity practices require organization-wide awareness. Industrial cybersecurity is no exception. As 85% of the attacks are generated due to a human factor, training employees and establishing awareness has become a necessity. 

Industrial cybersecurity almost always comes down to your employees knowing what they are up against. Despite most of the emails containing phishing links ending up in the spam folder, employees knowing which ones can jeopardize the whole operation helps.

Cybersecurity awareness also can save you a lot. Data breach costs, according to IBM, can easily outshine the investment that’s required to train your employees. 

  1. Consider Asset Management

Asset management for OT devices includes asset inventory, asset discovery, data enrichment, and OT cybersecurity.

Asset inventory stores all the necessary metadata of digital OT devices like PLC, sensor, RTU, and operator panels. The data includes hardware models, serial numbers, physical location, network connectivity, and so forth. 

Asset discovery is the periodic pull request that scans the OT devices to ensure that the asset inventory data is updated. 

The data enrichment process goes beyond inventory and downloads vulnerability data from sources like NIST to compare with the available hardware information derived from asset inventory and discovery. 

OT cybersecurity ensures that a proactive system is enabled through the organization to safeguard the interest of the machinery and stakeholders. The whole asset management procedure informs the OT cybersecurity tool with available data for it to find the vulnerable endpoints, poor patch status, and critical vulnerabilities.  

  1. Vulnerability Management 

Vulnerability management is the practice of identification, evaluation, and fixation of vulnerabilities and insecure endpoints found through asset management tools. 

Asset management is a subset and the first step towards vulnerability management. 

The other elements of vulnerability management include (1) prioritizing vulnerabilities and (2) patching. But as the OT components are comparatively more sensitive than IT, traditional tools aren’t practical. 

Patch management falls under vulnerability management. Once a vulnerability is found, the decision to either fix the issue at once or delay it to safeguard the operational interests is considered the responsibility of patch management.

In an IT environment, where faster patching may be the best course of action, in OT cybersecurity, smart patching is the solution to ensure it does more good than harm.  

  1. Endpoint Monitoring and Response

Organizations often compromise endpoint monitoring to embrace a dead M&M (outside hard, inside soft) approach. The tools configured this way listens to day-to-day operational traffic and completely neglect the risks associated with endpoints. 

As long as the outer shell isn’t cracked, the network stays safe with this practice. But once it has been breached, the attack breaks down the whole operation—threatening human lives and financial resources. 

Endpoint monitoring is strengthening the whole network through managing the endpoint directly to not only secure the inner endpoints but also secure the network perimeter. 

  1. Compliance Reporting

Convergence of OT/IT efforts and compliance with regional regulations are often considered symbiotic. But since most IT compliance manuals focus on the security and privacy of customer data, it may be viewed as a futile investment for OT cybersecurity. 

But once the primary frustration wears off, the silver lining beyond saving on legal and reputational ramifications starts to emerge. 

By complying with the latest regulations, you enable your OT environments to be updated with the latest software architecture and best IT practices. An updated system is critical for enhancing OT cybersecurity and saves more in legal, financial, and reputational aspects than you’ve invested.

The Bottom Line

OT cybersecurity has benefitted from IT integration in operational and communicational ways. But as beneficial as the relationship is, that also opened up opportunities for cyber attackers to breach and exploit the OT environments more easily. 

To mitigate the cybersecurity issues, raising awareness, asset management, and vulnerability management are critical. And for additional security, compliance reporting and endpoint monitoring also are effective.