Mitigating OT Cyberthreats

September 8, 2023

Protect critical infrastructure: Learn strategies for mitigating OT cyberthreats. With the proliferation of Internet of Things (IoT) and operational technologies (OT), organizations are becoming ever-more interconnected than before, providing cybercriminals with an additional target to attack.

Hackers can access OT networks to obtain sensitive information or credentials for malicious reasons and can even use malware to disrupt operations.

1. Implement a Zero Trust Strategy

Zero Trust Strategy (ZTS) is an approach to security that eliminates direct access to networks and resources, establishes granular access controls, and provides organizations with visibility into user actions. ZTS utilizes threat prevention technologies like strong authentication, behavioral analytics, microsegmentation, endpoint security and privilege control.

Zero trust security models take an alternative approach that views all individuals and objects as potential threats to ensure organizations adopt a proactive posture against threats both internal and external to their organization.

Large organizations must ensure a Zero Trust model receives support from key stakeholders to be implemented successfully. Leaders and managers must agree upon a plan, training program, and implementation program before it begins in order to guarantee its success.

Zero Trust employs an on-going verification process in which users and service accounts must undergo authentication, authorization and their security posture verification prior to connecting to any service network. This represents a radical transformation in how security is implemented.

Consider three on-ramps when adopting a Zero Trust approach: identity, applications and data, and network. Choose which on-ramp best meets the digital transformation maturity and current security strategy needs of your organization.

Establish a dedicated team with the expertise needed to implement a Zero Trust strategy. Whether this team resides within IT or is led by security professionals, its leader must have authority and the responsibility for pushing forward its security vision.

As the OT cyberthreat landscape rapidly evolves, organizations must have an adaptable strategy in place for dealing with it. A Zero Trust Strategy can assist companies in safeguarding digital transformation while mitigating potential cyberattacks on business operations or their brand reputation.

2. Implement a Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) Strategy

MFA strategies are essential in mitigating operational cyberthreats, providing security against unauthorised access by increasing the number of authentication factors required for identifying users and blocking credential stuffing attacks that use stolen accounts to gain entry to an organization’s systems.

Implementing multi-factor authentication requires organizations to add several verification factors for every user – passwords, biometrics or one-time passwords (OTP). An OTP is usually generated by MFA providers for every authentication request made against their systems.

The number of authentication factors will depend on both the role of the user and system they are accessing. Some multi-factor authentication (MFA) solutions allow organizations to choose among various factor types like fingerprint, retinal or voice recognition to build into existing single sign-on processes or build directly into user applications.

MFA can also help prevent ransomware attacks, which encrypt data and demand ransom payments to decrypt it. Such threats often disrupt operations and cause downtime – as well as cause costly downtime due to downtime during decryption processes.

If your organization is considering multifactor authentication (MFA), the first step should be assessing your current security environment and choosing an approach that makes sense for users and your organization as a whole. Next, implement it accordingly.

Prep for MFA rollout by informing employees about its process and workings; setting up training schedules if needed and allocating extra resources as necessary.

Make sure that the new process is user-friendly, without negatively affecting productivity or user buy-in. Achieve this goal by informing them about why and how the change will be implemented; this will reduce frustration while increasing adoption rates.

3. Implement a Network Segmentation Strategy

Network segmentation helps organizations reduce the risks posed by ransomware or other cyber attacks and allows more effective access control for critical IT assets.

Employing a multilayered approach, the initial step in creating a network segmentation strategy should involve assessing which security risks exist in your organization and developing plans to combat those threats.

Implementation of a network segmentation strategy also necessitates regular monitoring of traffic and performance on the network, particularly to detect gaps and vulnerabilities that require attention.

As part of an effective ongoing network monitoring strategy, periodic network risk analyses and penetration tests as well as annual audits should be performed to detect new users, processes or business needs that have arisen since its last inspection. Such audits help detect any changes since then that have altered how we use our networks.

As part of an effective network segmentation plan, creating access portals for third-party vendors who require specific levels of network access is also an excellent strategy to reduce breaches into your OT systems from vendors who become breached. This way, attackers won’t have access to your critical systems.

Network segmentation should be implemented as a continuous process governed by an ongoing security strategy, to ensure consistency across your enterprise and accommodate updates for mission-critical systems when they are introduced, updated or decommissioned.

4. Implement a Vulnerability Management Strategy

Vulnerability management (VM) is a cybersecurity practice which involves the identification, prioritization and remediation of vulnerabilities on an organization’s IT assets in order to minimize associated risks and safeguard it against security breaches, data theft or cyberattacks.

An effective vulnerability management strategy requires a team of experts with different roles and responsibilities, each assigned according to individual capabilities and organizational structure. Furthermore, they should be educated about the process’ key steps of monitoring, assessing, locating, reporting vulnerabilities as well as mitigating or resolving them when possible.

Recognizing OT vulnerabilities is vital to mitigating cyber attacks. Cybercriminals and malicious hackers exploit such vulnerabilities to gain entry to industrial organization networks for financial gain or disruption purposes.

Step one of implementing an effective vulnerability management strategy is creating a complete asset inventory of all of your IT assets, keeping an updated list as new assets come onto the network and older ones are removed from service.

Once an inventory has been compiled, you should carefully examine each asset to assess if any are vulnerable. This involves reviewing security controls and software applications installed on them as well as conducting assessments to make sure they remain secure.

Assess the impacts of these vulnerabilities on both your business and environment, including considering their effect on employees, customers and customer-sensitive information.

Prioritize vulnerabilities by impact, considering their effect on your business, severity of threat and likelihood of occurring.

5. Implement a Patch Management Strategy

Operating system (OT) cyberthreats can wreak havoc on any organization’s ability to operate and provide services, making mitigation critical. One strategy for doing this is through patch management strategy implementation.

Patch management strategy is the process of updating software, hardware and networks with the most up-to-date patches to address vulnerabilities in applications, operating systems and other software that threaten your business. These updates address vulnerabilities found within applications, operating systems and other forms of software which puts your organization at risk.

Patch management strategies can also help your business avoid costly IT disruptions while keeping in line with industry regulations.

Start by conducting a complete inventory of both hardware and software assets to gain a clear picture of which need patching, when, and on what frequency. Based on priority, prioritize which patches to deploy based on their criticality level.

One essential step to take when managing assets and software is assigning risk levels for them. This will allow you to prioritize updates for essential assets first while deciding which can wait.

Before making changes to your main IT infrastructure, it’s best to conduct tests in a separate environment first. This will reduce potential problems caused by patches and allow for rollback if something goes awry.

Once your patch management strategy has been created, it’s essential to make sure all teams abide by it. This involves documenting patches, vulnerability tests, deployment results and the deployment process itself.

Implementing an effective patch management strategy may prove to be challenging, but its rewards will far outweigh its challenges: protection from security breaches and regulatory fines as well as cost savings, reduced downtime, improved performance and enhanced overall operations are just a few benefits of doing it right.

Ammar Fakhruddin

ABOUT AUTHOR

Ammar brings in 18 years of experience in strategic solutions and product development in Public Sector, Oil & Gas and Healthcare organizations. He loves solving complex real world business and data problems by bringing in leading-edge solutions that are cost effective, improve customer and employee experience. At Propelex he focuses on helping businesses achieve digital excellence using Smart Data & Cybersecurity solutions.


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