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From Bytes to Insights: Essential Advice From Our Podcast

One of the most overlooked areas of cyber security is Operational Technology (OT) security. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been discussing this subject in our podcast, ‘The Keys 2 Your Digital Kingdom’ with the help of Cyolo’s OT Strategist, Kevin Kumpf. He brings with him a wealth of knowledge on securing OT environments, and in this blog we’ll be looking into key takeaways from our discussions.

The Importance of Securing OT Environments

OT security involves protecting the hardware and software systems that monitor and control physical devices, processes, and events in real-world operations. Unlike IT (or Information Technology), which manages data and information, OT influences physical processes such as manufacturing, energy distribution, and transportation. 

OT environments keep essential services and infrastructure functioning, managing everything from power grids and water treatment plants to transportation networks. Any OT security breach could result in severe disruptions, affecting public safety and national security. As Kumpf explained in a recent episode, “These systems, when they go down, can cause catastrophic things. The power grid, for example… There is no back up…. People can die… It’s just a very dangerous area where you do not want downtime.”

The importance of OT security is underscored by the need to ensure business continuity. Any disruptions could halt production and disrupt supply chains around the world, resulting in significant financial losses. Kumpf points out, “IT is coming into the OT world,” and with IT and OT systems becoming integrated, the number of vulnerabilities has grown. One of the biggest shifts in the OT world is that more parties are involved in maintaining systems, locally and remotely. An approach bridging IT and OT is crucial for security strategies, ensuring operational efficiency and resilience against attacks.

Securing Industrial Assets

The second episode of our OT security miniseries focused on industrial settings, where cybersecurity and machine safety is vital. Industrial environments, such as factories and power plants, rely on OT systems to manage and control machinery and other processes. This makes them susceptible to cyber threats, which can threaten the safe operation of machinery and impact physical operations. 

As cyber threats become more sophisticated, the repercussions of a cyber attack grow. An incident in an industrial environment could result in machinery malfunctions, a halt in production – or catastrophic safety incidents. When it comes to protecting these environments, challenges include protecting legacy systems, implementing real-time security measures, and ensuring machinery can operate without disruptions.

To reduce these risks, organisations must adopt cyber security strategies that encompass IT and OT. This includes thorough risk assessments and enhancing monitoring and detection capabilities to respond to threats in real-time. This way, organisations can protect their machinery and maintain a safe and secure production environment at the same time.

OT In Action

Industrial environments aren’t the only areas in which OT security is critical. The travel, logistics, and supply chain management sectors also face a range of security vulnerabilities. In these sectors, an OT security incident could lead to widespread disruption and significant economic impact. In the travel industry for example, OT systems manage everything from flight operations to baggage handling. A cyber attack could cause delays, cancellations, and even compromise passenger safety.

As for logistics and supply chain management, OT systems oversee the movement of goods around the globe. As Kumpf noted, “We’re not housing warehouses of inventory any more – everything is just in time, built at the moment, shipped at the moment.” Disruptions can lead to delays, increased costs, and shortages – and in the past few years, supply chain cyber attacks have increased. Between 2022 and 2023, the average number of supply chain data breaches increased by 26%, according to BlueVoyant. Securing OT in logistics is crucial to maintain the flow of goods and services that global economies depend on.

The Challenges of OT Security

OT security presents a range of challenges. Much of this is due to the widespread use of legacy systems lacking modern security features. One of the biggest challenges is the amount of users with third-party access. As noted by our partner Cyolo, the average organisation allows 77 third-party vendors to access their OT environments, while 25% of businesses give access to over 100. Also, as many OT environments have little tolerance for delays, there are limited opportunities for maintenance or patching. 

The proliferation of alternative energy sources has transformed the sector. The latest episode of our podcast deals with this topic. As Infosec K2K’s Stephan Zimmerman explained, “One of the biggest changes we’ve seen in the last 10 or so years… is the change from the very centralised production of energy to the more distributed production of energy. It is much harder to protect the entire grid and all the entities within that are now supplying into the grid, such as batteries and solar panels.” 

Each of these is a new entry point for cyber criminals, but it’s not just cyber criminals threatening OT security – in the first half of 2023, the US Department of Energy identified 95 human-caused incidents targeting the electricity sector. The sector’s facing threats more sophisticated than ever, and organisations need to step up their OT security.

Securing OT environments is complex but essential in our increasingly interconnected world. The insights shared in our podcast highlight the importance of OT security, as well as its challenges. For more in-depth discussions and expert cyber advice, tune in to our podcast. With new episodes coming soon, we’ll help you stay informed and stay secure.

Whatever solution you’re looking for, we can help. The experts at Infosec K2K can offer you specialist guidance, and help you find the product that’s the best fit for you.

Get in touch with us to find out more about how we can help you.

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