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Bridging the Gap as OT Networks Integrate with IT Environments

As OT networks integrate with IT environments, how can we bridge the gap to promote robust security? 

The (sometimes intricate) lines between Operational Technology (OT) networks and Information Technology (IT) environments are blurring. Previously, OT networks, responsible for managing manufacturing, processing, distribution, and inventory management, functioned in isolation. Today, they are increasingly integrated into broader IT infrastructures, adding layers of complexity and new vulnerabilities. This integration offers enhanced efficiency and streamlined operations but presents unique challenges for security teams.  

Let’s consider the amalgamation of OT networks and IT, and how security teams can adapt to protect these hybrid environments 

The Convergence of OT networks and IT: Why it Matters  

Operational Technology, historically isolated and using proprietary systems, directly interacts with the physical world. It controls valves in refineries, factory conveyor belts, and food storage unit temperature settings. Conversely, IT environments manage data, applications, and communication technologies. The integration of these once distinct domains stems from a need for real-time data analytics, process automation, and improved operational efficiency  

Benefits of OT/IT Integration  

  • Real-Time Analytics: Connecting OT devices to IT systems provides real-time data, enabling better decision-making. 
  • Operational Efficiency: Seamless integration ensures smoother operations, reduces redundancy, and optimizes resource use. 
  • Cost Savings: Unified systems eliminate the need for manual data transfers and reduce maintenance costs associated with isolated systems.  

OT Network Challenges for Security Teams  

While the integration of OT into IT landscapes offers numerous benefits, it isn’t devoid of challenges:  

  • Increased Attack Surface: More devices and systems connected online mean more entry points for cyber attackers.  
  • Legacy Systems: Many OT systems were not designed for internet connectivity, making them vulnerable when integrated into IT networks.  
  • Lack of Visibility: Traditional IT security tools may not provide complete cybersecurity visibility into OT assets, leaving blind spots.

Strategies for OT/IT Network Security Teams 

  • Comprehensive Visibility: Ensure full visibility across both OT and IT assets. Utilize specialized tools that can map out the entire converged environment, identifying all devices, their interdependencies, and communication patterns.  
  • Segmentation: Implement network segmentation to isolate critical OT assets from the broader IT network. Microsegmentation can further granulate these divisions, ensuring that even if one segment is compromised, the breach doesn’t propagate.  
  • Regular Updates and Patching: While OT systems have longer life cycles and can’t be updated frequently, it’s crucial to prioritize patching wherever possible. Where patching is challenging, implement compensatory controls to mitigate risks. 
  • Educate and Train: OT personnel, traditionally not well-versed in cybersecurity, should be trained on best practices. Conversely, IT teams should understand the nuances and importance of OT systems.  
  • Incident Response Plan: Craft a robust incident response plan tailored to the integrated environment. Ensure rapid containment strategies are in place, especially for OT, where breaches can have physical consequences.  
  • Collaboration is Key: Foster a collaborative environment where OT and IT teams work in tandem, understanding each other’s challenges and priorities.  

Real World Implications 

Incidents like these painfully underscore the real-world implications of inadequate security in converged OT-IT environments:  

Ukrainian Power Grid Attack (2015)
In December 2015, a well-coordinated cyberattack hit three regional power distribution companies in Ukraine. The attackers used malware to compromise systems controlling electrical substations, temporarily cutting power to over 200,000 residents in a move that was unprecedented in its scale. The affected areas faced blackouts for several hours in the heart of winter, affecting residents and businesses alike. The power companies incurred substantial financial losses due to the need for emergency response, system restoration, and subsequent infrastructure enhancements. The affected companies, and by extension the Ukrainian government, faced significant criticism for not having adequate protections in place, eroding public trust. Given the attribution of the attack to a nation-state actor, this incident heightened political tensions in the region.   

Triton/Trisis Malware Attack on Saudi Petrochemical Plant (2017)
The malware, known as Triton or Trisis, was designed to target safety instrumented systems (SIS), which are OT components that ensure industrial processes safely shut down in abnormal situations. The attack aimed to cause physical damage to the facility. Ramifications: While the attack was thwarted before any physical damage occurred, successful manipulation of the SIS could have led to explosions, fires, or chemical releases. The plant had to shut down operations temporarily to investigate and respond to the breach. The petrochemical company faced expenses related to incident investigation, system recovery, and new cybersecurity measures. The breach served as a wake-up call to the petrochemical industry about the vulnerabilities in OT networks. 

Target Corporation Data Breach (2013)
While this breach primarily affected the IT environment, it originated in an OT context. Hackers gained access to Target’s network via a third-party HVAC vendor, using credentials stolen from the vendor. Once inside the network, they deployed malware on Point of Sale (PoS) systems to capture credit card data. The personal and financial information of over 40 million customers was compromised, and Target incurred costs upwards of $200 million for breach-related expenses, including settlements, system improvements, and credit monitoring services for affected customers. The breach significantly tarnished Target’s brand reputation, with customers questioning the company’s ability to protect their personal information. The breach led to the resignation of Target’s CIO and, eventually, its CEO, highlighting the significance of cybersecurity oversight at the highest organizational levels. 

Staying Ahead: Tools and Innovations  

Embrace the latest tools designed for hybrid environments. Innovations like AI-driven anomaly detection can spot irregularities in OT network behavior, flagging potential threats. Similarly, advanced firewall technologies now cater to OT-specific protocols, ensuring granular traffic filtering.  

Our own TrueFort Platform offers a comprehensive suite of tools and capabilities designed to bolster the security of both OT (Operational Technology) networks and IT (Information Technology) environments, uniquely working with the team at Armis to offer the following: 

  • Real-time Visibility: TrueFort provides real-time visibility across both OT devices and IT systems. This unified visibility ensures that security teams have a clear picture of the entire integrated network, enabling them to identify and address vulnerabilities or anomalies quickly.  
  • Behavioral Analytics: By understanding the typical behavior of devices and systems within the integrated environment, TrueFort can detect any anomalies that may signify a breach or vulnerability. This is especially crucial for OT systems that might have unique operational patterns.  
  • Granular Access Controls: As OT networks integrate with IT systems, there’s an increased risk of lateral movement by malicious actors. TrueFort’s granular access controls ensure that devices and systems can only communicate with validated endpoints, thereby reducing the potential attack surface.  
  • Microsegmentation: TrueFort’s microsegmentation capabilities allow for the division of the converged network into smaller, secured segments. This ensures that even if one segment is compromised, the breach doesn’t spread throughout the entire ecosystem. 
  • Continuous Monitoring: With the fusion of OT and IT, it’s essential to have continuous monitoring to catch any potential threats in real time. We offer this capability, ensuring threats are identified and addressed promptly.  
  • Integration with Existing Security Solutions: Many organizations already have certain security solutions and EDR agents in place. TrueFort can seamlessly integrate with the likes of Armis, Crowdstrike or SentinelOne, enhancing their capabilities and ensuring a layered defense strategy.  
  • Scalability: As OT networks evolve and expand, the security solutions protecting them need to be scalable. TrueFort’s platform is designed to scale with the growth of an organization, ensuring consistent security regardless of the size and complexity of the integrated environment. 
  • Compliance Reporting: With the convergence of OT and IT, compliance requirements can become more complex. TrueFort aids organizations in ensuring they meet these standards and provides comprehensive reporting tools to demonstrate compliance. 
  • Incident Response: In the unfortunate event of a breach or security incident, TrueFort offers tools and capabilities to aid in swift incident response, helping to mitigate damage and understand the root cause.  

 As OT networks increasingly merge with IT environments, the challenges of securing this integrated landscape grow. We offer a comprehensive, scalable solution that addresses these challenges, ensuring that organizations can reap the benefits of OT-IT integration without compromising on security. 

Looking Ahead: A Future of Integrated Resilience  

As OT and IT continue to intertwine, the cybersecurity landscape will inevitably evolve. Organizations will need to balance the drive for efficiency with the imperative for security. By adopting a proactive stance, leveraging the right tools, and fostering a collaborative culture, security teams can ensure they not only keep up but stay ahead in this converging world. 

Future Ready  

The convergence of OT networks with broader IT environments is a testament to the rapid digital transformation sweeping industries. While this integration offers unprecedented opportunities for efficiency and analytics, it comes with its share of challenges, especially concerning security. By understanding these challenges and proactively addressing them, organizations can harness the power of convergence without compromising on security.

The future belongs to those who can seamlessly blend the physical and digital, ensuring resilience every step of the way. If you’d like to talk more about OT/It convergence or would like a no-obligation consultation or demonstration of how we can help, please get in touch.  

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