In the 21st century, not many people are oblivious to the term IT or its constituents. Our society is surrounded by components related to an IT structure or component. Nowadays, almost all business, personal and corporate processes are strongly dependent on different IT infrastructures and technical services.
However, another part of the technology hierarchy is usually forgotten to be kept in respective but is closely related to the IT industry is the OT(Operational Technology) industry.
What is Operational Technology?
Simply put, Operational Technology is any hardware or software involved in controlling and performing industrial equipment or assets and performing processes or events. OT was originally a field that was worlds apart from the IT industry. Concerned with the industrial and operational oriented processes and events Operational technology components were of no concern for IT or Cyber-security professionals. The reason is that even the most technologically advanced machinery or apparatus ran on isolated networks and dubious operating systems.
However, as time has progressed to a more advanced era, OT has become fully integrated with AI for more precise management, remote-management capabilities, and AI-guided industrial processes.
OT components have become very closely related to the IT industry, which helps all sides of the respective organization increase productivity, process efficiency, and cost-efficiency. But all good is accompanied by some bad. This world has never been white and black, so why would it be when concerned with technology.
As the technology advancement rose in the OT industry, so did the threats to the very functionality of those components as well the organization to which they belong.
Cyber Security: Interconnecting OT and IT
When Covid-19 hit, it marked the start of a revolution in the IT industry. Having OT assets integrated with the main operational network became of the highest priority. The introduction of Big Data and advanced data analytics led to OT becoming more vitally integrated into the main organizational systems to provide remote management options and detailed and accurate reports for data analysis and future business predictions.
But this is also where OT became exposed to cyber threats that have plagued the IT industry for a long time. Although the extent of the cyber threat that OT functionality is exposed to, many cyber security companies in Los Angeles showed evidence of potential catastrophic danger during the official Cybersecurity summit. This real-world evidence included the recorded cyberattack on the energy infrastructure in Ukraine, which emphasizes the potential consequences it could incur if security vulnerabilities of OT components are undermined for too long.
OT connected systems are increasing at an unprecedented rate, covering all aspects from data acquisition, supervisory control, programmable logic controllers, and robotics.
With OT now occupying such a big part in the IT mainstream network, how can these components be targeted for illicit access and tempering, what are the outcomes of a hack in the OT mainframe, and how can the OT components be protected against such cyber threats.
Cyber vulnerabilities have significantly grown in the OT industry in recent years. A company recently reported that an authentication bypass was possible through a remote code execution on unpatched equipment or component.
Even the IT environment is at risk because of the defenselessness of the OT sector. It was brought into view by some cyber securities in Los Angeles that usually, a compromised credential will not be a risk to the ICS environment due to the many firewalls and preventions set up against attacks. But with access to the OT network infrastructure, Hackers can see who predicted this issue and who hasn’t.
Another very strong example of the major defenseless position of an IT system is that PLCs can be connected to printers, and there is no-definite pre-defined access control in place. By simply bypassing a VPN, you can gain access anywhere on that network.
All these vulnerabilities are further emphasized because there are no antiviruses to run on OT operating systems, making them one big target for malicious cyber attacks from all corners.
All the points we talked about boil down to the fact that the OT sector, closely related to the IT sector, needs custom defense protocols and safeguards against any malicious activity. Without the correct measures being taken immediately, major players in the industrial field are open to huge losses due to system hacks and data leaks. The need for specialized security solutions is of supreme urgency. The industrial sector leaders sleep with ease through adequate measures and firewalls set in place, knowing their entire operation won’t be compromised because of a small apparatus or industrial asset.