Cybersecurity is a critical issue for organizations of all types and sizes. But for organizations that rely on Industrial Control Systems (ICS) in the Operational Technology (OT) domain, it can be a particularly daunting challenge.
These networks are different from traditional IT networks in many ways, and they present unique cybersecurity risks. The number of attacks on such systems has been increasing in recent years due to the expanding attack surface. In addition, OT professionals often lack the training and expertise to protect these systems from cyberattacks.
This article discusses seven reasons why cybersecurity is a challenge for OT professionals.
Industrial Cybersecurity Challenges
- OT Systems Run On Legacy Systems
One of the biggest challenges faced by OT professionals is that many of their systems are legacy systems. Legacy systems were not designed with security in mind. They often lack the modern security features that benefit IT systems.
OT systems cannot be frequently updated due to cost and operational complexities. They are easily prone to cyberattacks compared to modern IT systems. They have, thus, become a hot target for cybercriminals across the globe.
- ICS Is Complex and Constantly Changing
The complexity and high level of customizations in Industrial Control Systems make it difficult to secure ICS systems. There are often many potential vulnerabilities that can be exploited. In addition, the constant change in the ICS domain means that new security risks are always emerging at a rapid pace. This makes it challenging to keep up with the latest threats.
- Lack of ICS-Specific Cybersecurity Personnel
There is a global shortage of ICS-specific security expertise. This shortage makes it difficult for organizations to find the personnel needed to secure their ICS and OT assets adequately. In addition, the lack of ICS-specific security expertise often leads to a lack of understanding of the latest cybersecurity risks and how to mitigate them best.
- ICS Networks Are Often Not Well-Segmented
This lack of segmentation in OT and ICS networks makes it easier for attackers to move laterally within the network. Cybercriminals can gain access to critical OT systems and IT systems as well. In addition, a lack of segmentation can make it difficult to contain an attack and prevent it from spreading to other areas in the organization.
- ICS Systems Are Often Connected to the Internet
Another challenge is that ICS systems are often connected to the internet. This connection makes it easier for attackers to gain access to these systems. They can simply exploit vulnerabilities in the network. In addition, the internet connection can also be used to exfiltrate data from the ICS.
- ICS Systems Are Often Controlled Remotely
Another challenge is that ICS systems are often controlled remotely. This availability of infrastructure for remote control makes it easier for attackers to gain access to these systems. They can execute the attack and data extraction remotely, irrespective of the physical security measures of the infrastructure.
- Physical Access to ICS Systems Can Be Difficult to Protect
ICS systems are often located in remote or difficult-to-reach areas. As a result, it can be difficult to secure these systems from attack physically, too.
These seven factors make it clear that ICS cybersecurity is a significant challenge for OT professionals. Organizations must address these challenges to protect their ICS systems from cyberattacks.
OT Solutions From Defender Industries
Some effective risk mitigation strategies for OT systems are:
- Implementing Security by Design
One of the best ways to address industrial cybersecurity challenges is to implement security by design. This means that security should be built into ICS systems from the ground up, rather than being an afterthought. By doing this, organizations can ensure that their ICS networks are structurally well-built.
- Working With OT-specific Cybersecurity Vendors
The best way to address ICS cybersecurity challenges is to work with the right OT security vendor. Reputed OT security vendors hold the expertise to secure ICS and SCADA interfaces. These industrial cybersecurity vendors are experienced with securing business-critical infrastructure and OT assets.
They offer OT vulnerability management services and can investigate any security threat or incident in depth. They also have procedures in place to contain cybersecurity incidents and secure other parts of the system.
- Implementing Security Controls
Security controls are measures that can be taken to mitigate risks. They can be technical or organizational in nature. They should be tailored to the specific needs of the organization.
- Conducting Risk Assessments
Another important step that organizations can take is to conduct risk assessments. Risk assessments help organizations identify potential risks and vulnerabilities in their ICS systems. They also help organizations determine the best mitigation strategies to address these risks.
For instance, organizations can carry out patch management to fix any vulnerabilities that cyber attackers might exploit to carry out a cyberattack after conducting risk assessments.
- Implementing Incident Response Plans
Incident response plans outline the steps to take in case of a cyberattack. By having an incident response plan in place, organizations and OT security vendors can ensure that they are prepared to deal with an industrial cybersecurity incident.
- Training Employees
One of the best ways to address cybersecurity challenges is to train employees. Employees should be trained on how to identify risks and how to mitigate them. They should also be trained on the steps that they should take in the event of an industrial cyberattack.
ICS cybersecurity solutions offer guided training to employees to understand the dos and don’ts of the OT security domain. This will educate the employees of the organization to be more aware of the best practices in cyberspace.
- Deploying Security Updates Promptly
Another step that organizations can take is to keep up to date with security updates. Security updates can help fix vulnerabilities in ICS systems. Organizations should create dedicated maintenance teams or team up with OT solutions to install security updates as soon as they are available.
- Monitoring ICS Systems
It is mandatory to continuously monitor ICS systems for threats or suspicious activities. The monitoring can be on-premise scans of hardware or cloud-based. Companies should also have procedures in place to respond to incidents.
These are just some ways organizations can address ICS cybersecurity challenges. By taking these steps, organizations can help protect their ICS systems from cyberattacks.
Indeed, ICS cybersecurity is a significant challenge for OT professionals. But, organizations can take steps to address these challenges to protect their ICS systems from different types of cyberattacks. The steps mentioned in the blog, such as working with OT security vendors, will help OT professionals protect their organizations from various forms of cyberattacks or minimize the impact in case a cyberattack does happen.