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IT/OT Cybersecurity Convergence: Start Strong with These Six Controls

As IT and OT teams converge, industrial businesses need to create better cybersecurity plans and strategies to confront modern threats. Where's the best place to start? Try these six cybersecurity controls. 

The teams responsible for securing IT and operational technology (OT) in organizations have been able to operate without much interaction because the systems and software they supported were unique and discrete. 

That all started to change a little over a decade ago, and the worlds of IT and OT have been steadily converging ever since. This trend is a byproduct of digital transformation and shifting technologies pushing enterprises of all sizes, including those in the industrial sector, to digitize their infrastructure. This often entails exposing once air-gapped and isolated equipment – think of a device with Windows-based Human/Machine Interface sitting on an OT network – to the wider public internet.

"IT systems are increasingly showing up in the OT environment," Ted Gary, Sr., a senior product marketing manager at Tenable, noted during a recent Tenable webinar entitled Six Common Controls Unite and Strengthen IT/OT Security, which explored the issue of IT and OT convergence and what it means for the overall business.

This convergence of two important and completely different disciplines has led to a growing concern about cybersecurity, as manufacturing equipment and applications which were previously isolated are now subject to the same types of attacks that have plagued IT hardware and software for years. At the same time, Industrial Control Systems (ICS) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems have become a target of Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) groups intent on cyber espionage.

Threats to industrial systems represent a large and growing challenge for CISOs. Having responsibility for overall company security, CISOs must find a way to bridge the gap between IT and OT. It's not an easy task, said Gary, who was joined during the webinar by Seth Matheson, a public sector sales engineer with Tenable.

As the amount of OT finding its way onto the corporate LAN steadily increases, the attack surface expands accordingly. At the same time, since IT is typically responsible for business technology and the networks these system run on, there's some concern about who can take ownership of issues such as patching, since many OT systems cannot be readily patched

 "IT tends to set the policy, but OT owns the controls," Gary added.

 Where to begin? For Gary, the answer is to keep it simple, and start at the beginning.

Six Cybersecurity Controls to Help with IT/OT Convergence

The Center for Internet Security (CIS) offers six basic security controls Gary believes can help enterprises form the basis for a cybersecurity strategy they can use to come to grips with the convergence of IT and OT. The controls are documented in the CIS publication CIS Controls: Implementation Guide for Industrial Control Systems, which Gary contributed to.

 These basic security controls include:

  • Inventory and control of hardware assets
  • Inventory and control of software assets
  • Continuous vulnerability management
  • Controlled use of administrative privileges
  • Secure configurations for hardware and software computers
  • Maintenance, monitoring and analysis of audit logs

"Start with this basic set of controls," Gary said. "It doesn't matter where you are going, you can build on this foundation."

While starting with basic security controls can help enterprises begin the process of bridging the gaps between IT and OT, as well as improving overall cyber hygiene, there are still other significant obstacles to overcome.

For example, a November 2016 survey Tenable commissioned with the Center for Information Security found  organizations are challenged by a lack of trained staff, lack of budget, lack of prioritization and lack of management support among other issues.

So what can CISOs do to meet these challenges?

This is where the so-called "soft skills" come into play. For instance, Gary urged CISOs and other security leaders to work on improving communications to bridge the distance between IT and OT. This can be as simple as setting up informal "Lunch & Learn" sessions between IT and OT during which the two groups can find common ground and agree on a common strategy.

"It'll cost you a couple of pizzas," Gary noted.

These types of conversations can start an enterprise on the road to securing the convergence of IT and OT.

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