Essential security practices in OT control systems

By Prayukth K V
May 29, 2023
Essential OT security practices 12 effective measures you can implement today

Operational Technology (OT) security controls include the measures, workflows and procedures put in place to protect various OT systems from cyber threats. OT systems are used to control, run and monitor critical infrastructure, such as those in power plants, water treatment facilities, and transportation systems. As these systems become increasingly interconnected, they turn more vulnerable to attack.

In addition to vulnerabilities, there are also threat actors who are constantly scanning networks connected to OT to gain access to such networks. Many critical infrastructure operators that use OT rely on a mix of OEM support and internal OT security governance policies to secure OT. Such policies often are not aligned with the growing threats in the wild and increasing threat surfaces in these organizations (that result from the use of untested and/or legacy systems that simply cannot be patched).

Thus in order to ensure disruption-free operations, organizations using OT need to deploy more measures to secure OT and the allied networks.

Essential OT security practices 12 effective measures you can implement today

Here are 12 effective measures that are relatively easy to deploy and improve OT security to a large extent

1. Network Segmentation in IT-OT Networks

OT networks should be segmented to build a moat around critical control systems from other networks, including corporate or public networks. This prevents unauthorized access and contains potential breaches, limiting the impact of a breach event.

Segment your network at the most granular level: Learn more about Sectrio Micro Segmentation.

Micro Segmentation

2. Access control

Strong access controls help restrict and manage user access to OT systems. This includes utilizing unique user accounts, identity, and access management using strong passwords, need-based access, multi-factor authentication, and role-based transaction-specific access control to ensure that only authorized personnel can access and make changes to the OT systems. This also helps reduce the insider threat.

3. Patch management

Regularly applying security patches and updates to OT control systems (patch discipline) is crucial to addressing known vulnerabilities and preventing them from being exploited. However, patching in OT environments presents a daunting challenge due to concerns about system accessibility, stability, and downtime. Proper testing and validation procedures should be followed to ensure patches do not disrupt operations at any level.

Know more: 10 Best Practices for an OT patch management program


4. Security monitoring

Implementing robust monitoring capabilities is essential for detecting and responding to security incidents promptly. This includes monitoring network traffic, system logs, and security event information to identify suspicious activities or anomalies.

5. Deploying security solutions

Such as those from Sectrio helps detect, contain and block known attack patterns and behaviors in real-time. Such OT Security systems can provide early warning of potential security breaches and automatically take action to prevent or mitigate the impact of an attack.

6. Security sensitization, awareness and training

Employees and operators should receive regular training on OT security best practices, including recognizing and reporting suspicious activities, handling security incidents, and adhering to security policies and procedures.

7. Leverage global repositories and understand the landscape

MITRE ATT&CK® which is cited as a globally-accessible knowledge repository of adversary tactics and techniques based on real-world observation should be used to strengthen the organization’s security posture. Have a holistic view of emerging threats, adversaries, and exploits to take action against them, early on.

Check out: The Global OT and IoT Threat Landscape Assessment and Analysis Report 2023

The 2023 Global Threat Landscape Assessment Report | Sectrio

8. Secure Remote Access

If remote access to OT systems is necessary, it should be implemented using secure methods such as virtual private networks (VPNs) and encrypted communication channels. Multi-factor authentication should be enforced to ensure that only authorized individuals can access the systems remotely.

Contact us: Find out how Sectrio can help you with a Secure Remote Access Solution

9. Incident response and recovery planning

Conceptualizing and running an incident response plan is crucial for effectively managing and recovering from security incidents. This includes defining and publishing roles and responsibilities, activating communication channels, documenting processes, and conducting regular drills and simulations to ensure preparedness to deal with any threat or risk.

10. Implement a Zero trust framework

Trust should be portioned and earned. Micro Segment your network and deploy granular policies that allow you to adopt Zero Trust Network Architecture.  

11. Vendor and supply chain visibility and security

Proper diligence should be conducted when selecting OT control system vendors (OEMs), ensuring they have robust security practices in place and that they procure components from credible and secure vendors. It is important to assess the security of third-party components and software used in OT systems to minimize the risk of supply chain attacks and embedded malware.

12. Continuous risk assessment

Regularly conducting risk assessments, flash audits, and vulnerability scans helps identify, prioritize, and address potential weaknesses in OT control systems. This allows organizations to prioritize security investments and make informed decisions to improve the overall security posture of their OT environments.

Sign up now: Comprehensive Asset Discovery with Vulnerability and Threat Assessment

Comprehensive Asset Discovery with Vulnerability and Threat Assessment 1200 Ă— 630px
Comprehensive Asset Discovery with Vulnerability and Threat Assessment 1200 Ă— 630px

OT control security needs a holistic approach from the word go that combines technical controls, process improvements, and organizational awareness. It should be run as an ongoing effort that adapts to evolving threats, security priorities and technologies to ensure the resilience and safety of critical industrial processes.

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