OT Security Challenges

Operational technology (OT) is the hardware and software responsible for physical processes, devices, and infrastructure. OT is a core component of critical infrastructure and, in turn, states’ national security. The 21st century has seen dramatic technological advancements, known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0). Industry 4.0 centers on the development of cyber physical systems (CPS), the umbrella term of engineered systems that orchestrate sensing, computation, control, networking and analytics to interact with the physical world. In short, CPS automate the monitoring and control of OT through IT infrastructure. While CPS have brought significant advantages to industry, visibility challenges make managing such systems a difficult task and, with that, comes a host of potential cybersecurity risks.

Cyber physical systems are comprised of different digital tools that all share the common trait of connectivity. Through connectivity, CPS automate industrial processes, thus allowing for better allocation of resources and increased productivity. Industrial Control Systems (ICS), which include Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems and Distributed Control System (DCS), have been around for decades – long before Industry 4.0 came into fruition. However, the development of CPS over the last few years saw the silo that ICS once operated in begin to erode with the introduction of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). ICS are now connected to the “outside” world thanks to the convergence of IT and OT. A survey conducted by the SANS institute found that nearly 40% of devices in the Manufacturing Zone (Purdue levels 0, 1, 2, and 3) are connected to enterprise networks.

By leveraging connectivity, CPS have helped enterprises boost performance by enhancing efficiency and reducing downtime, thereby improving material use and enriching customer experience, among other positive domino effects. Ultimately, the advantages of Industry 4.0 have lowered costs and increased returns on investments, demonstrating significant value across the entire enterprise.

However, as OT becomes more connected and reliant on technology, it is now more vulnerable than ever; a serious risk considering that physical processes rely on the continuous operability of OT. The need for robust cybersecurity is imperative. Yet, visibility challenges remain a fundamental obstacle to effective cybersecurity as blind spots allow vulnerabilities to go unaccounted for and security policies to lack comprehensive enforcement.

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