IT Brief Australia - Technology news for CIOs & IT decision-makers
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Balancing technology and people for robust protection
Wed, 5th Jul 2023

In today's interconnected world, operational technology (OT) has become an integral part of most industries. From manufacturing plants and healthcare facilities to energy grids, these systems play a critical role in keeping the world running smoothly. However, with increased connectivity comes increased risk, and as OT systems become more interconnected with other networks, they become more vulnerable to cyber threats. Therefore, it's essential to implement robust cybersecurity measures to protect OT systems and maintain their operational integrity.

Operational technology (OT) is a category of hardware and software that controls and monitors physical processes in the real world. These systems are used across many industries, including manufacturing, transportation, energy, emergency services and utilities, to manage everything from production lines to power plants. Unlike traditional information technology (IT) systems, OT systems operate in the physical world and directly affect the safety and efficiency of critical infrastructure.

Unfortunately, OT systems are often not designed with cybersecurity in mind. Many of these systems were developed decades ago, and security was not a significant concern at the time. Consequently, some organisations are running on OT systems that lack basic security features, making them susceptible to cyberattacks. The aftermath of a successful attack can have far-reaching and catastrophic consequences.

OT cyber attacks can be more damaging than IT cyber attacks, often resulting in disruption to production lines, equipment damage, and a potential threat to public safety. In 2021, there were 64 reported cases of OT cyberattacks globally, a 140 % increase from the number reported in 2020. Of these attacks, around 35 % resulted in physical consequences, and the estimated damages per incident were approximately $140 million. 

In today’s business landscape, cybersecurity is a crucial consideration that organisations must take seriously. Those who acknowledge this fact understand that creating a culture of operational excellence is essential for maintaining a secure and resilient infrastructure, promptly detecting and responding to threats, and protecting the organisation from the negative consequences of financial loss and reputational harm.

Prioritising cybersecurity as a critical component of the overall strategy enables organisations to stay ahead of potential security breaches, minimise risk exposure, and safeguard their reputation and financial stability. One such way to do this is to partner with a Managed Security Service Provider (MSSP) to implement a robust security program that includes security operations centre (SOC) services.

SOCs are a critical component of any organisation's cybersecurity program. They are dedicated teams that monitor and respond to cybersecurity incidents in real-time. SOCs use a combination of technology and human expertise to detect and respond to cyber threats quickly. They analyse security events from various sources, such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and SIEMs. In addition, SOCs conduct regular vulnerability assessments and penetration testing to identify potential weaknesses in the organisation's security posture.

In short, having a SOC can be a game-changer for cybersecurity. It's like having a personal security team that proactively works to prevent potential security breaches and quickly and effectively responds should one arise, saving your organisation from financial and reputational harm in the long run. Considering a SOC is a worthwhile investment for organisations looking to proactively protect themselves against potential security threats.

SIEM systems are another essential component of an organisation's cybersecurity program. They collect and analyse security event data from various sources, including network devices, servers, and endpoints. SIEM systems use advanced analytics and machine learning algorithms to identify anomalous behaviour and potential security threats. By correlating data from various sources, SIEM systems can detect and respond to security incidents quickly.

It is important to note that whilst technology plays a primary role in cybersecurity, it’s not the only focus. OT cybersecurity requires a balanced approach between technology, people, and processes, recognising the critical role that employees play in cybersecurity and the need for technical security capabilities to detect and respond to cyber threats is key. 

To strengthen an organisation's security posture, there are several best practices that they should follow. Firstly, organisations should conduct regular security awareness training for all employees, including those who work with OT systems. Cybersecurity is everyone's responsibility, and educating employees on basic security practices can help prevent incidents caused by human error.

Secondly, organisations should implement a risk-based approach to security. They should identify critical assets, such as OT systems, and prioritise their protection. By focusing resources on the most critical assets, organisations can achieve a higher level of security while managing costs effectively.

Thirdly, organisations should use a defense-in-depth strategy. This means implementing multiple layers of security, in addition to SIEMs, it should include secure architectures and controls such as firewalls and intrusion detection, and endpoint protection, detection and response systems to protect their assets. By using multiple layers of security, organisations can create a more robust security posture that is more challenging to penetrate.

Finally, organisations should regularly test their security posture through automated vulnerability assessments and regular penetration testing. By identifying weaknesses in their security posture, organisations can take proactive measures to address them before an attacker can exploit them.

If operational technology organisations want to be successful in cybersecurity, they need to take a holistic approach. That means not only focusing on technical aspects but also on the human factors involved. By doing so, they can improve their ability to quickly detect and respond to security threats. Additionally, restructuring security operations can help these organisations become more agile and adaptive to new risks as they emerge. It's a constantly evolving landscape, but by taking a well-rounded approach, organisations can establish a cybersecurity program that's both sustainable and effective in keeping them safe.