OT security refers to “operational technology security,” the practice of protecting systems that monitor and control physical devices and processes. The goal is to prevent disruptions that could lead to operation downtime or inefficiency, equipment damage, and safety hazards.

OT security is necessary for water treatment facilities, oil and gas pipelines, power plants, transportation networks, manufacturing plants, and other critical infrastructures where a breakdown can have a widespread negative impact.

Read More about OT Security

OT security addresses the unique challenges in OT systems and environments. Learn more about it below.

What Are OT Systems?

OT systems are hardware and software specifically designed and used to monitor and control physical devices and processes in industrial environments. Examples of OT systems include:

  • Sensors that can detect temperature and pressure in a manufacturing facility
  • Systems that manage and monitor power plants and oil and gas pipelines
  • Devices that can manage traffic and track vehicles
  • Systems that can control medical equipment and monitor patient health

These are just a few OT system examples in the manufacturing, energy production, transportation, and healthcare sectors. 

Why Is OT Security Important?

OT systems play a crucial role in various industries and environments. Therefore, securing them by implementing robust OT security is essential. Imagine how detrimental it would be when OT systems managing power plants fail. Here are three specific reasons why securing OT systems is important.

  • Critical infrastructure protection: A nation’s critical infrastructure is mainly controlled by several OT systems. A security incident could lead to a massive disruption affecting an entire country and pose national security risks. For example, several parts of Ukraine experienced a power outage when hackers took control of the OT networks of three of its energy distribution companies.
  • Safety: Since OT systems control physical processes and machines in various industries, any compromise could endanger the lives of employees and customers. A real-life example of that happened in Queensland, Australia, when an ex-employee breached 150 sewage facilities and released 800,000 liters of raw sewage into parks and rivers, posing potential health hazards to the public.
  • Business continuity: Several companies across many industries rely on OT systems. Any disruption could lead to financial losses and damage a company’s reputation. Merck & Co. was among the many organizations that suffered a ransomware attack that impacted their IT and OT systems in 2017.

What Is the Difference between IT Security and OT Security?

OT and IT security are major and interconnected areas of cybersecurity. However, they have different priorities, goals, and techniques. We differentiated IT and OT security below.

  • Goal: IT security aims to protect data from unauthorized access and destruction, while OT security is concerned with protecting systems that manage industrial operations.
  • Priority: IT security focuses on the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data and information systems. On the other hand, OT security’s priority is the safety, reliability, and productivity of OT environments. 
  • Implementation: IT security is usually flexible, requiring regular patches and updates. However, OT security systems are designed for long-term protection and reliability so systems can run for years without interruption.

These differences mean securing IT and OT environments require varied skill sets and strategies. The two processes were historically separate, but digital transformation demands that IT and OT converge and related systems be protected holistically. 

What Are Examples of OT Security Tools?

Here are a few examples of OT security tools designed to detect anomalies, maintain system availability, and ensure system integrity in various industries.

  • Industrial firewalls: Specialized firewalls designed to withstand the environmental conditions in OT environments.
  • Intrusion detection systems (IDSs): These systems monitor traffic in OT networks to detect malicious activities and policy violations immediately. 
  • Security information and event management (SIEM) systems: SIEM systems collect, analyze, and present information from various sources to identify potential security threats. While they are widely used in IT, they can also be tailored to work in an OT context.
  • Endpoint protection platforms: These tools protect endpoints commonly seen in OT environments, such as sensors, industrial networking devices, smart meters, and industrial robots.

What Are Some OT Security Best Practices?

OT security requires meticulous planning and execution to protect critical infrastructures effectively. Below are some of the best practices for robust security.

  • Regular risk assessment
  • OT and IT network segmentation
  • Regular system patching and updates
  • Implementation of strong access controls
  • Secure storage for portable devices
  • Controlled physical access to OT equipment
  • Creation and testing of incident response plans
  • Using security monitoring tools
  • Regular security awareness training for employees
  • Scrutiny of third-party vendors that have access to OT systems

These are just 10 best practices to secure OT devices and systems effectively. There are more, of course.

Key Takeaways

  • OT security protects industrial systems that control critical infrastructures, focusing on safety, business continuity, and infrastructure protection.
  • Significant breaches, such as the 2015 Ukraine power grid attack, highlight the importance of implementing robust security measures.
  • Tools used for OT security include industrial firewalls, IDSs, and vulnerability assessment tools, among others.
  • Best practices for OT security include risk assessment, network segmentation, regular system updates, access controls, and physical security, among many others.