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Manufacturers, like all enterprises, continually seek new ways to maximize efficiency and profitability, and when it comes to operations, it boils down to increasing production efficiencies, improving product quality, and accelerating time to market, all without sacrificing the safety of our workforce and our operations. Of course, the driver of all of this is technology innovation. 

One big piece of the puzzle, brought on by the digital revolution, is merging Operational Technology (OT) with Information Technology (IT) into a unified body, where each division can still function sufficiently on its own.

A major facet that will contribute to the end-goal is a sophisticated OT security strategy for protecting assets, ensuring operational continuity and safeguarding against cyber threats. Of course, getting there will require a commitment to prioritizing cybersecurity, with collaboration across various departments, including IT, OT and security teams. Fortunately, this is entirely attainable…with a little help.

WWT is working closing with some of the world's largest manufacturers on this front, and now bring to you insight into best practices and approaches for continued success.

The digitalization of OT

The journey to total digital transformation is well on its way. While there are so many benefits to realize, digitalization comes with some temporary growing pains, and that includes some unwanted security gaps – particularly when it comes to operational technology. 

The technology infrastructure of an OT organization has many of the same security requirements that IT organizations use: identity and access management, network security, end-point security, secure remote access, etc.; but, deploying these solutions can be tricky when it comes to the OT environment, as there are processes, applications, systems and devices that are often foreign to enterprise security teams.

For security teams, there are a lot of unknowns pertaining to what a manufacturing operation looks like as a whole. Before the rise of digitalization, manufacturing operations were often air-gapped from enterprise IT systems, so IT security teams had little or no interaction with their manufacturing peers. 

This gap has created a knowledge deficit regarding how things operate, how that side of the business runs and what applications and systems are required to make production operations successful. As a result, it's incredibly difficult to create an effective security strategy without disrupting the business. This, in turn, slows the adoption of IT/OT convergence and digital transformation initiatives. 

Secure, digital modernization of manufacturing operations is essential to continued improvements in production efficiency, quality, safety and profitability, and helping companies achieve this is at the crux of our manufacturing practice.

The time for collective governance and standards is now

The manufacturers we are working with have dozens, sometimes hundreds, of locations spread all over the world. The conditions and requirements vary to certain degrees from location to location, but one commonality is the need for maximum security. Figuring out how to roll out a security strategy across widespread locations that operate differently can seem daunting; but, with the right approach, it is possible.

The first step is to define governance, standards and operating models and then apply them consistently. The process alone will help to answer those really big questions about security that persist regardless of location or the circumstances thereof. 

Once you've defined and established governance and standards, you can then begin to focus on the process nuances or set of required capabilities that are exclusive to a particular location. WWT's Manufacturing Practice Manager, Don Rogers, agrees:

Arranging a marriage between IT and OT

As OT becomes more digitized, IT has a lot to offer regarding security strategies and best practices. However, a "copy and paste" approach just won't cut it. While many Enterprise security strategies, solutions and procedures have a proper place in OT, they must be modified to best align with the needs of the business. This requires a strong alliance between IT and OT teams, working towards a unified goal of securing the company as a whole.

Let's think about a healthy marriage for a moment… Two people with their own histories, interests, careers, and goals, coming together to share in the joys and sorrows of it all, existing independently but working together to create a harmonious home life. They know and value what's important to one another. They don't need to be an expert at the other person's profession, but to understand and appreciate it contributes to a stronger relationship. 

This is what cross-functional looks like, and it's how IT and OT teams should function. They need not be experts in each other's arenas, but do need to truly understand how each other thinks and operates, with consideration for care-abouts and goals. This will result in a symbiotic team that will be able to operate cohesively and scale a bit more readily.

Blending the right mix of people, processes and technology is how to achieve the best possible outcome for the business. Getting the technology right is the easy part; the people and processes aspects can be more challenging, but also more rewarding. It's up to the stakeholders to put the right people and processes into motion. 

Factors for consideration

For manufacturing stakeholders, it isn't necessarily information technology or cybersecurity that are top of mind. Rather, they think in terms of resiliency, availability, quality, speed, safety and security. When it comes to devising an OT security strategy, here are some of the many factors that need to be considered:

Risk assessment and asset inventory.  A comprehensive risk assessment will identify vulnerabilities, threats and critical assets within the OT environment. Take inventory of all OT assets, including machinery, sensors, industrial control systems (ICS) and applications, map them to production processes and categorize them based on their criticality and importance to operations.

Segmentation. The OT network should be properly segmented based on process, function, criticality and security requirements. There are various approaches to achieve the desired results, including: VLANs, Identity-based admission control, firewalls, software-defined networks, etc. Many segmentation strategies use more than one of these methods. A proper discovery of manufacturing operations will provide the basis for developing the most effective strategy.

Access control and authentication. Establish strict access control measures by implementing role-based access controls (RBAC) and least-privilege principles. To prevent unauthorized access, implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) where possible. These measures should be developed for both local and remote access to critical manufacturing systems.

Continuous monitoring and anomaly detection.  Robust monitoring tools and Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) will continuously monitor network traffic, devices and systems for any anomalies or suspicious activities. Behavioral analytics and machine learning algorithms can identify deviations from normal behavior that might indicate potential security breaches.

Patch management and updates.  In order to mitigate known vulnerabilities, develop a patch management strategy and processes for OT systems that regularly tests and applies updates. Develop an isolation strategy for systems that cannot or should not be patched.

Incident response and recovery plan.  Develop a comprehensive incident response plan, outlining clear steps to be taken in case of a security breach or incident. It's also important to conduct regular drills and simulations to test the effectiveness of the incident response plan and train employees on how to respond to different scenarios.

Employee training and awareness.  Provide specialized cybersecurity training to OT personnel to increase awareness about potential threats and best practices for maintaining a secure environment. It's also good practice to emphasize the importance of cybersecurity protocols and encourage a culture of security consciousness among all employees.

Vendor management and supply chain security.  Ensure third-party vendors and suppliers adhere to robust security standards and regularly assess their security posture to prevent supply chain attacks. For added measure, have secure communication channels and protocols for interactions with external partners.

Industry standards and regulatory compliance.  Standards bodies such as NIST, IEC and ISA all offer relevant frameworks for security architectures and controls specific to industrial operations. These are invaluable sources of information to consult when developing any OT security strategy. Further, ensure that your strategy is aligned with industry-specific regulations to ensure compliance and avoid penalties. 

Regular security audits and testing.  Conduct regular security audits to proactively identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses within the OT infrastructure.

Data backup and disaster recovery.  Implement regular backups of critical OT data and establish robust disaster recovery mechanisms to ensure rapid restoration of operations in case of an incident.

Continuous improvement and adaptation.  Security is an ongoing process. Continuously evaluate and adapt the OT security strategy based on emerging threats, technological advancements and lessons learned from incidents.

Into the beyond

Digital modernization of manufacturing can fundamentally transform the ways manufacturers run their business.  For example, Digital Twin solutions allow manufacturers to accelerate the testing and validation of new products and designs. Advanced data analytics and AI provide the means for faster, better-informed decision making. Augmented reality enables expert guidance to those less experienced. The possibilities are many, and they all add up to saving time and increasing efficiency. 

As the industry undergoes rapid digitization and disparate systems become more connected, these technologies become increasingly valuable to the business across the board. But, there's a lot at stake, so risk mitigation is a major component. The right steps need to be taken for a wide body of interests, including that of the business, its stakeholders and its customers.

With industry-leading expertise in leveling up manufacturing operations through innovation, WWT is here to help. 

WWT's approach to OT Security