By the end of 2023, security and risk management (SRM) leaders will need to adjust their OT cybersecurity solutions because 60% of today’s point solution OT security providers will have been rebranded, repositioned or bought, or will have disappeared – Gartner
IT (Information Technology) and OT (Operational Technology) were two separate domains until recently when they started to converge. The essence of IT/OT convergence lies in the integration of IT systems that are focused on data-driven computing with Operational Technology which monitors processes and devices that are built into the pyramid of IoT (Internet of Things), including but not limited to robotics, medical devices, and connected sensors. This unification of traditional IT with industrial OT offers great benefits including higher efficiency in monitoring critical events, dramatic cost savings, and an upsurge in employee productivity. However, it does come with its share of new and unique security concerns.
Let us now explore the benefits of this convergence in the next section.
Benefits of IT-OT Convergence
Following are the major benefits that manufacturing companies can enjoy with the convergence of IT/OT:
Simplified Process Control
Most Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES software) used in production maintenance, inventory, and quality control are bulky and come with legacy applications. The convergence with the OT platforms is simplifying these systems by replacing and integrating them with IT-based systems. This ensures an equal distribution of activities across both OT and IT thus optimizing the entire manufacturing process.
Data Analysis in Real-Time
With the integration of IT/OT, data sharing and analysis of machine-generated data can happen in real-time as opposed to gathering it manually from different sources like machines, factory floor sensors, databases, and gateways. The ability to analyze data in real-time provides the flexibility to take instantaneous actions in response to events, thus saving organizations tons of time and resources.
No Unplanned Downtime
The integration of IT-OT systems has provided the manufacturing industry with a proactive approach for monitoring potential failures and outages. In the past, sudden equipment failures and emergencies would cost companies huge unplanned downtime resulting in steep profit losses. Thanks to this integration, both OT and IT teams can now monitor machine performance collectively, digitize the maintenance process and extract insights directly from the factory floor.
Two Unique Security Challenges with the IT-OT Convergence
The invisible crossroad between the IT and OT systems makes them more vulnerable to threat actors willing to cause operational and environmental disruptions. Until recently OT devices were segregated from traditional networks and were deployed with no security measures. Since the convergence and digitalization of the OT devices, these isolated devices are now exposed to potential threats. This has brought two unique security challenges into the limelight. Let us discuss them briefly:
Lack of Visibility and Expertise
Most industrial IT security teams do not have clear visibility into the endpoints of their IT and OT networks and within the cloud. If the security is outsourced, most third parties might lack the expertise needed to maintain converged technology infrastructure. Also, the rapidly changing technologies leave little to no time for live peeking inside both the infrastructures. Recent research conducted by Lumeta shows that on average, more than 40 percent of today’s dynamic networks, endpoints, and cloud-based infrastructures are unknown or exist in an unmanaged territory.
Little to No Control Over Security Policies
Due to the IT/OT convergence, industrial business requirements are increasing rapidly and becoming difficult for IT teams to manage. Security policies are either not implemented properly or follow a poor hygiene routine due to outdated and out-of-compliance rules. The same security policies that are meant to prevent risks are introducing them to the IT/OT environments due to compliance gaps and poor implementation capabilities.
Now that we understand the unique challenges posed by this convergence, let us now peek into the ways to prevent them in the next section.
How to Prevent Security Challenges with IT/OT Convergence
The convergence of IT/OT environments is no doubt complicated and threat prone. However, with newer approaches and a bit of planning and collaboration, these hurdles can be eradicated for good. Here are a few ways to achieve this:
Begin with Security in Mind
Any digital transformation and conversion should be done with security at the forefront. Most cases where this convergence fails is when organizations only think of security as an afterthought rather than taking proactive measures.
Monitoring Activity in Real-Time
Monitoring activities in real-time is the key to sustaining a secured and converged network. Having visibility into endpoints across the entire IT, OT, and cloud infrastructure will ensure that every aspect of the converged network falls under a unified security policy. This will leave no room for loopholes and will provide greater flexibility for the correct policies to be applied across all the assorted assets.
Network segmentation is the logical isolation of a network into smaller chunks. This is essential for IT/OT security as it restricts lateral movement attacks. Segmentation separates networks based on types, purpose, and access type which greatly reduces the chances of a cyber attack affecting all the networks simultaneously.
It is always best to have the team leaders, decision-makers, and executives all on the same boat when conducting an IT/OT convergence. If everyone shares the same goals and visions with clearly defined outcomes, it will be easier to keep the threats at bay.
Run a Pilot Program
Every step of the outlined convergence process should be tested out. Running the convergence repeatedly in a controlled production environment is necessary to ensure strong security measures and a robust contingency plan before moving it to a live environment.
Fusing two separate realms of technologies comes with a lot of challenges. On the same hand, exciting benefits like interoperability and streamlining of processes makes it all worthwhile. To address the growing need for digital transformations, Exium has purpose-built a cybersecurity solution that not only provides an efficient IT/OT convergence for organizations but also addresses the underlying security challenges and risks.