Industrial Security

Is Your Operational Technology a Gateway for Cyberattacks?

Sarah Kolberg
To help you improve the security posture of your operational technology amid IT-OT convergence, read about the four recommendations Belden’s expert team shares in this blog.


Whether machines are arranging their own maintenance appointments, or digital twins are simulating processes on a production line, the convergence of IT (information technology) and OT (operational technology) is bringing new potential to industrial environments.


Through this convergence of IT and OT, real-time data from operational technology systems, such as PLCs and SCADAs, can be harnessed to improve business operations. By evaluating this data, for example, companies gain better visibility into their processes and know where and how to optimize workflows for improved efficiency and profit.


IT-OT convergence brings new opportunities to the plant floor

While the list of benefits is long, here are just a few examples of the results you can experience when IT and OT work together.

  • Better energy management by enabling monitoring and control of all devices, their usage times and energy consumption.

  • Fast response times in case of operational failure through remote monitoring, access, control and verification

  • Predictive maintenance that allows machines to signal when they need service and automates ordering of spare parts to prevent downtime.

  • Demand-driven manufacturing to support scalable, flexible production that aligns with changing customer demands and material bottlenecks.

  • Event simulation for process adjustments through digital twins that act as virtual models of infrastructure, production lines, etc.

  • Automated information exchange between endpoints, such as machines, units or vehicles, through machine-to-machine communication.

When Operational Technology Meets IT, New Security Concerns Arise

While the benefits are significant, the unification of IT and OT also brings potential drawbacks—primarily in regard to security.

Historically, operational technology systems have operated in isolation to protect business-critical processes (this separation is often referred to as an “air gap”). As workflows interconnect, however, the boundaries between IT and OT are blurring. This can make operational technology a target for cyberattacks. Here’s how.


IT-OT interfaces create vulnerabilities

Interfaces between OT and IT can become vulnerabilities, representing potential entry points for attackers. Cyberattacks on these interfaces can lead to operational downtime and enormous monetary losses.


OT systems have conservative security measures in place

Compared to IT, operational technology requires an additional layer of protection for operator and workplace safety. While the lack of functional security of physical systems can cause production downtime, there can be other causes, too. For example, faulty behavior of onsite machines can endanger employees, which leads to downtime. Therefore, OT systems often have conservative security measures in place. Cyberattacks can explicitly aim to take advantage of this approach to disrupt operations.


Security standards are lacking

Information and data security are additional security issues to consider. OT systems don’t often have the same security standards as IT. Operational technology is usually older than information technology; the hardware is designed to function for decades. The long lifecycle of systems, machines and other equipment often means obsolete security measures as well, including:

  • Outdated software and operating systems
  • Short or infrequently changed passwords
  • Old protocols supporting data communication


Data encryption doesn’t exist

Along with IT-OT convergence comes data management. But operational technology doesn’t always provide data encryption, and huge amounts of data are generated for real-time consumption. Cyberattacks can compromise data integrity through manipulation, data theft, espionage or even data destruction.


4 important considerations to improve IT-OT security

Merging OT and IT requires a comprehensive, unified cybersecurity strategy to address the specific needs of both systems—and Belden can support your mission.


Belden and its brands, including macmon, can help you navigate IT-OT convergence so you can experience the benefits it offers, while minimizing vulnerabilities brought on OT security and systems.


To help you improve the security posture of your operational technology, our team shares four recommendations.


1. Implement network access control

If OT systems are interconnected and remote access is possible, then network access control is essential to ensure security. All clients and endpoints must be authenticated and authorized.


2. Establish a network overview

To make the complex system visible, a complete network overview is needed. This ensures continuous monitoring of the entire network with a heterogenic system landscape.


It’s important to clearly identify all communication participants, as well as assets, and verify their security status. This is the only way to achieve network-traffic transparency despite increasing complexity. All data flows should be made visible in live and historical views.


3. Isolate through network segmentation

To ensure that the failure of a machine doesn’t affect the entire operation, virtual subsections can be formed using network segmentation (VLAN management). This security measure can isolate affected areas from the rest of the network and make data flow controllable.


4. Prioritize patch management

To reliably protect interconnected OT systems, regular software and protocol updates are important. In particular, the translation of old machine protocols into secure protocol standards and industry-compatible firewalls verifying that operational technology communication protocols are important.



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