The use of operational technology (OT) systems continues to grow. Thus, there’s a need for organizations to understand and address common vulnerabilities. OT systems manage and control physical processes, such as manufacturing, energy production, and transportation. They involve complex systems that involve a variety of connected devices and networks.
Unfortunately, these systems can be vulnerable to attack if not properly secured. These attacks can have serious consequences, ranging from production downtime to revenue loss to safety issues. In this article, we discuss some of the most common vulnerabilities in OT environments and offer tips for addressing them. By understanding these vulnerabilities and taking steps to mitigate them, you can help protect your organization’s OT systems from attack.
Common Vulnerabilities in OT Environments
The digitization of industrial processes has led to a new era of connectivity between OT and IT systems. Yet, this increased connectivity has created new security vulnerabilities that malicious actors could exploit. These vulnerabilities include:
1. Insufficient Employee Training
Insufficient employee training is one of the most common vulnerabilities in OT environments. This can be due to a need for more training or awareness. In the absence of adequate training, employees may be unaware of the security threats that exist in their work environment.
Employees need to be aware of properly using computer equipment or networked devices. They also may need to learn about the potential consequences of using these devices for illegal purposes. Lack of training leads to many issues, including:
- Incorrectly performing procedures and tasks.
- Wrongly using equipment, software, and technology.
- Inadequate communication between staff members.
- Inadequate reporting and record keeping.
Employee training must be a priority for OT organizations to close this gap. Training should cover basic industrial cybersecurity principles, as well as specific threats and vulnerabilities that are common in OT environments. Educating employees on ICS cybersecurity can help them become part of the solution and make your industrial OT environment more secure.
2. Insecure Remote Access and Control
Operational Technology (OT) networks are often designed to be isolated from the Internet and other external networks for security reasons. However, this isolation can create vulnerabilities if security controls are not properly implemented. Remote access and control systems manage OT systems from a distance. These systems are often not well protected, leaving them open to attack.
Insecure remote access and control features can allow attackers to access and control OT systems remotely. To mitigate these risks, you can follow the best OT security solutions, such as:
- Use a VPN or other secure connection to access these systems.
- Use two-factor authentication for all remote access.
- Configuring firewall rules to limit the number of connections allowed from remote locations.
- Limiting the number of simultaneous connections to a single server.
- Encrypting data transmitted over the network using TLS/SSL technology.
- Using strong passwords for all remote connections.
3. Unpatched Software
Unpatched software is one of the most common vulnerabilities in operational technology (OT) environments. It can lead to security breaches, data loss, and system downtime. Therefore, organizations must ensure that their OT systems are always up-to-date with the latest security patches.
Organizations should regularly scan their OT systems for any unpatched software and take steps to patch them as soon as possible. They should also use automated patching tools to ensure all their software is up-to-date. They should also implement a comprehensive security policy and regularly train their staff on OT security solutions for patching software.
By taking these measures, organizations can reduce the risk of unpatched software vulnerabilities in their industrial OT environment. They can protect themselves from potential attacks or data loss.
4. Insufficient Network Monitoring and Visibility
Insufficient network monitoring and visibility is one of the most dangerous vulnerabilities in an organization’s network. Network monitoring provides visibility into all activities occurring within an enterprise network. This includes data traffic and malicious activities, such as scanning for vulnerabilities by sending out probes across the network. Lack of monitoring can cause several issues:
- Unable to detect system outages.
- Unable to detect malware or other malicious software.
- Inability to detect unauthorized access or attempts to gain access.
It’s important to have a network monitoring system that can detect and alert security events. Still, it’s even more important to drill down and identify what has caused those events. You need OT security solutions that can provide you with all relevant details about your network and show you where vulnerabilities exist.
5. Inadequate Network Segmentation
As operational technology (OT) environments become more complex and interconnected, securing them becomes more difficult. One of the most common vulnerabilities in OT networks is the lack of adequate network segmentation.
Many OT networks are not properly segmented, leaving them vulnerable to attack. There are several reasons for this, including the fact that segmentation can be complex and time-consuming. Many organizations need the expertise or resources to do it properly.
Network segmentation divides a network into smaller parts to improve security and performance. Organizations can better protect critical systems and data from cyber threats by segmenting an OT network.
6. Malware and Other Malicious Code
Malware is malicious software that can infiltrate computer systems by exploiting vulnerabilities in software. It is a program that appears useful but carries out harmful activities. Malware uses security vulnerabilities in web browsers and operating systems to hide from antivirus programs. This makes it difficult to detect. There are several types of malware, such as Trojans, worms, and viruses.
Because malware can be so destructive, you must use OT security solutions to identify and remove it from your network. The key is to protect your environment by keeping all the devices in your environment up-to-date with the latest antivirus software updates.
Operational Technology (OT) is becoming increasingly important in modern businesses, as it controls and monitors physical processes. But, industrial OT environments are vulnerable to cyber-attacks due to their lack of security measures. Understanding the common vulnerabilities and how to solve them to secure OT networks is important. Common vulnerabilities in OT environments include outdated software, weak authentication protocols, and unpatched systems.
Organizations should implement strong authentication protocols and regularly patch systems and software. They should use a secure remote access solution to allow authorized users to access the system remotely. This is to prevent unauthorized users from gaining access. These OT security solutions will protect these environments from cyber threats.