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Maximize Operational Technology Cyber Security: A Guide

In our fast-moving digital world, it’s key for companies to grasp how their IT and OT networks work together. Operational technology (OT) manages the physical operations in many fields. 

This can range from making goods and running power to moving freight and people. IT handles computing, networking, and data. Understanding their link is vital for today’s businesses.

A complex machinery setup with various interconnected parts and components that work together to ensure the safety and security of the operational technology.

Key Takeaways:

  • Operational technology (OT) systems control physical processes and equipment, unlike traditional IT systems.
  • The convergence of IT and OT through IIoT exposes Operational Technology to similar cyber threats faced by IT systems.
  • Legacy OT systems may lack essential security capabilities, making them vulnerable to cyber threats.
  • Safety and reliability are paramount in OT environments, unlike the traditional IT focus on data confidentiality and integrity.
  • Cybersecurity strategies in Operational Technology environments must balance safety, reliability, and the need for data confidentiality and integrity.

Understanding Operational Technology and Its Cyber Risks

Operational technology (OT) is all about the software and hardware for physical devices and systems. It uses things like subway trains and power plants. These systems were created long before the digital world we know today. They were built to work on their own, without connecting to the internet or other networks. This method, called air gap protection, was meant to keep them safe from hackers.

Differences Between IT and OT Security

IT and OT both deal with technology but have very different security goals. IT security aims to keep information safe and networks running. On the other hand, OT puts safety and keeping things working above all else. IT is usually able to handle some downtime, but OT needs to be running without pause.

IT gear is typically used for a few years before it’s replaced. In contrast, OT devices could be used for over two decades. Another difference is that IT regularly checks for and fixes security issues, while OT doesn’t always get the same attention. This means OT security is improving but still has a long way to go.

The Purdue Model: Traditional OT Network Architecture

In the Purdue Model, the structure of OT networks is split into five major parts. Each level plays a different role in how information is handled and used. The top two levels deal with how a business operates, while the bottom three levels handle the actual production or work. That’s where you find things like nuclear plants and water systems. Each level connects to those above and below it, allowing for both day-to-day operations and oversight from the business level.

Real Cyberthreats to OT Systems

Not all threats to OT systems come from the internet. Sometimes, attacks happen through everyday devices, like USB drives. The Stuxnet worm, for example, targeted Iran’s nuclear program by infecting their systems through USB. These incidents show that protecting OT networks is critical. Another example is the 2021 attack on a Florida water system. Attackers got in because the system was running old software and had weak passwords. And the 2021 Colonial Pipeline hack highlights the importance of knowing what devices are on your network and ensuring they’re secure.

Create an image of a complex and interconnected system of machinery and technology, with various entry points and access points that could be vulnerable to cyber attacks. Use a muted color palette to convey a sense of

Operational technology cyber security: Best Practices and Frameworks

With IT and OT blending, organizations need strong cybersecurity. They must protect their OT from harm. Many strategies can boost OT cyber defense.

Implementing a Zero-Trust Framework

In a zero-trust model, nothing gets automatic trust. Everything must verify its identity. For people, devices, and more, multi-factor checks are key. This model stops attackers and isn’t too hard on employees.

Controlling Identity and Access Management (IAM)

Keeping the right people and systems connected is crucial for businesses. OT doesn’t have all IT’s access tools. So, it’s vital to focus on identity and access management in OT. Use strong passwords and multi-factor checks. Ensure only needed people have access. Educate staff to keep their info safe and follow a least-access rule.

Cybersecurity Frameworks for OT and ICS

Many frameworks help secure OT and ICS, like the NIST Cybersecurity Framework and others. They show how to find, reduce, and handle cyber threats. They stress on risk assessment, access limits, and more. Following these helps improve cybersecurity and meet standards.

An image depicting the protection of industrial equipment from cyber threats, using elements such as firewalls, encryption, and access control. Show the integration of technology and security measures, with a focus on prevention and risk management. Incorporate a sense of urgency and importance in the image, emphasizing the

Securing the OT Environment: A Comprehensive Approach

More and more, companies are linking their OT systems to their IT infrastructure. This makes strong cybersecurity in the OT environment very important. To keep OT safe, using several key strategies and best practices is necessary.

Network Mapping and Connectivity Analysis

It’s crucial to know where all devices in the OT network are physically and digitally. This lets OT managers find and solve issues, like incorrect PLC communications. Accurate mapping of OT assets helps with security monitoring and response.

Detecting Suspicious Activities, Exposures, and Malware Attacks

Deciding what’s “suspicious” is key to avoid being overwhelmed by false alarms or missing real threats. SIEM systems know a lot about threats and can help. Using next-gen firewalls for checking data from the internet also ensures safety.

Aligning Remote Access Tools and Policies

Allowing the right people and systems into the OT environment is crucial for business. But, OT security tools are often less detailed than IT tools. This makes careful management of access rights, and using multi-factor authentication, very important.

Implementing Proactive Threat Detection and Prevention Measures

Being proactive in stopping threats is key in OT. This means knowing your network well, using SIEM to find strange actions, and next-gen firewalls to prevent threats. A zero-trust model and strict access controls also help stop attacks.


Digital transformation is blending IT and OT systems more. This means companies need strong cybersecurity. They must protect their technology from new cyber threats.

Understanding unique OT features and needs is key. So are best practices like network mapping and access control. Using cybersecurity frameworks helps too. This way, companies can keep their industrial processes safe.

The risk of cyberattacks on OT is going up. So, a proactive OT cybersecurity approach is vital. Matching remote access tools with policies helps. It’s also important to detect and prevent threats early. Tools like Tufin’s can manage security risks well.

Digital changes are making IT and OT systems more vulnerable to attacks. But, a zero-trust OT cybersecurity approach can improve protection. It safeguards vital infrastructure from cyber threats.

author avatar
Zahid Hussain
I'm Zahid Hussain, Content writer working with multiple online publications from the past 2 and half years. Beside this I have vast experience in creating SEO friendly contents and Canva designing experience. Research is my area of special interest for every topic regarding its needs.
Zahid Hussain
Zahid Hussain
I'm Zahid Hussain, Content writer working with multiple online publications from the past 2 and half years. Beside this I have vast experience in creating SEO friendly contents and Canva designing experience. Research is my area of special interest for every topic regarding its needs.


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