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Why Accidental Convergence Requires Purposeful Industrial Security

The digital “air gap” is no longer a viable strategy when it comes to securing industrial environments. Here are the safeguards you need to protect against threats across the converged IT/OT landscape.

Modern-day industrial and critical infrastructure organizations rely heavily on the operational technology (OT) environment to produce their goods and services. Many organizations are opting to converge their IT and operational technology (OT) environments, a decision that can yield many benefits, while also producing new attack vectors. Recent high-profile industrial attacks show that breaches can laterally creep from IT to OT, and vice versa. 

While some organizations embrace intentional convergence, others have decided against converging their IT and OT operations, for a variety of strategic, technical and business factors. By keeping IT and OT systems separate, these organizations are implementing an “air gap” security strategy. Operating as a “closed loop” without any interfaces to the outside world, the OT infrastructure is physically sequestered from any external environment. 

In practice, the notion of air-gapping is nearly impossible to maintain. Securing industrial operations requires more than building a digital moat around the OT infrastructure. Even under the most favorable of circumstances, the introduction of one seemingly benign variable – a personal laptop or contractor’s thumb drive – can permanently destroy the most stringently enforced air gap. This is known as “accidental convergence.”

The threat of OT-targeted attacks is not just theoretical, but an actual and ongoing occurrence, as evidenced by the recent NSA/CISA advisory. Setting the appropriate safeguards are necessary to ensure secured IT/OT operations. So, what should you consider?

Visibility that extends beyond traditional borders

Modern-day attacks are amorphous and travel across the traditional IT and OT security borders without regard. Our ability to track these types of propagation routes requires the de-siloing of traditional visibility parameters. Being able to gain a “single pane of glass” view of IT and OT gear, along with the conversations happening between the two worlds, is essential to illuminating potential attack vectors and asset blind spots that may have eluded traditional security strategies.

Deep situational analysis of OT assets

Whether or not a planned convergence initiative is in the works, it is important to recognize the significant difference in IT and OT life cycles. While IT infrastructures update regularly, OT infrastructures often persist for years, even decades, and are often as old as the plant itself. As a result, your full inventory of assets, along with maintenance and change management records, may not be current. Since it is impossible to secure assets you don’t know exist, you’ll need a detailed and automatically updated inventory of your OT infrastructure to effectively protect your industrial operations.

Multi-detection methods to reduce cyber risk

Since cyberthreats can originate from anywhere and travel everywhere, it is important to utilize as many capabilities and methodologies as possible to find and mitigate exposure risk. This includes network-based detection that leverages allow/deny list policies, anomaly-based capabilities, and community-sourced threat intelligence. 

Since most attacks target devices rather than networks, it is also essential to utilize a solution that actively queries and provides security at the device level. Because OT device protocols can vary widely, security and health checks must be unique to the make and model of the device, including its native language. These deep checks should not scan but rather be precise in query nature and frequency.

Security that contributes to the ecosystem of trust

While it is important to identify and leverage the best IT and OT security products for your environment, it is even more important that the products work together. The age-old notion of a layered and cooperative security approach, where point products can work together, creates an impermeable layer—the totality of the solution becomes greater than the sum of its parts. This not only enhances security monitoring and response, but also unlocks greater value and practical utility from existing security investments.

Accidental convergence, intentional security

IT and OT teams must find common ground to eliminate the substantial risk factors of both planned and accidental IT/OT convergence. But the mission does not end there. OT security solutions that work in conjunction with IT security solutions can be the catalyst that not only provides the visibility, security and control needed to thwart new cyberthreats, but also brings these once separate teams together for the common security every manufacturing, critical infrastructure and industrial organization needs to fulfill its core mission efficiently and securely.

To learn more about key threat factors and best practices for protecting your converged attack surface, download our whitepaper on “Accidental Convergence - A Guide to Secured IT/OT Operations.”

Download the Full Whitepaper

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