Cyber Security

A CISO’s Guide to OT Security in Critical Infrastructure

By Steven Dalglish

The security of operational technology (OT) systems in critical infrastructure is of paramount importance in today’s digital landscape. As technology continues to advance, critical infrastructure, such as power stations, industrial processes, and transportation networks, are becoming increasingly interconnected and reliant on digital systems.

However, this digital transformation also introduces new vulnerabilities and cyber risks that must be addressed to ensure the safety, reliability, and security of these critical systems.

Defining OT Security

Defining OT Security

Operational technology security, or OT security, refers to the measures taken to protect industrial control systems (ICS) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems from cyber threats.

These systems are the backbone of critical infrastructure and are responsible for monitoring, controlling, and managing physical processes, such as power generation, water treatment, and manufacturing. OT security focuses on safeguarding the networks, devices, and data associated with these systems, ensuring their availability, integrity, and confidentiality.

Importance of OT Security in Critical Infrastructure

Ensuring the safety and reliability of critical infrastructure systems is of utmost importance. A cyber attack on these systems could disrupt essential services, leading to significant economic, environmental, and social consequences.

Protecting critical infrastructure from cyber threats is not only essential for maintaining the functioning of vital services but also for mitigating the risk of physical harm to personnel and equipment. Additionally, OT security plays a critical role in preserving the integrity of industrial processes and ensuring compliance with safety regulations and industry standards.

The Intersection of IT and OT Security

The convergence of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) has created new challenges in cybersecurity. Traditionally, IT systems focused on data management and network security, while OT systems focused on physical process control.

However, as critical infrastructure becomes more digitalized, it is crucial to bridge the gap between IT networks and industrial systems to effectively manage security vulnerabilities in both environments.

This convergence requires implementing security policies, practices, and solutions that consider the unique requirements of industrial control systems, including legacy equipment, proprietary protocols, and open systems.

Challenges in Operational Technology Security

The security of operational technology systems faces various challenges, primarily due to the increasing cyber risks and vulnerabilities associated with critical infrastructure. Cyber actors, ranging from nation-states to cybercriminals, target industrial control systems to disrupt critical infrastructure, steal sensitive data, or cause physical harm.

Furthermore, the advent of industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices, which connect physical assets to digital networks, has expanded the attack surface of OT systems, making them more vulnerable to cyber attacks.

Cyber Risks to OT Systems

Industrial control systems are prime targets for cyber attacks due to their criticality and potential impact on infrastructure and public safety. Threat actors aim to exploit vulnerabilities in OT systems to disrupt critical processes, compromise sensitive data, or gain unauthorized access for malicious purposes.

Protecting OT systems requires measures such as network segmentation, access control, system hardening, threat detection, incident response, and security awareness training for personnel.

By addressing these cyber risks, critical infrastructure can better defend against cyber threats and minimize the potential consequences of cyber attacks.

The Impact of Industrial IoT (IIoT) on OT Security

The proliferation of industrial Internet of Things devices introduces new security challenges for OT systems. IIoT devices, such as sensors, actuators, and remote monitoring systems, collect data, enable remote control, and optimize industrial processes.

However, these devices often lack robust security measures, making them easy targets for cyber attacks. Securing IoT devices involves ensuring the security of data acquisition and monitoring systems, securing communication protocols, implementing access control measures, and managing the risk of cyber attacks targeting these devices.

Best Practices for OT Security

Implementing cybersecurity measures in OT environments is crucial for protecting critical infrastructure from cyber threats. By following best practices, organizations can minimize vulnerabilities, detect and respond to cyber attacks, and maintain the safety and reliability of industrial systems.

Some best practices for OT security include employing security solutions tailored for industrial control systems, implementing security policies, procedures, and guidelines specific to OT environments, conducting regular security assessments, training employees, and deploying solutions that provide visibility and threat detection capabilities.

Implementing Cybersecurity Measures in OT

To enhance the security of operational technology systems, it is essential to employ cybersecurity measures specifically designed for industrial control systems.

This includes utilizing security solutions that align with the unique requirements of OT environments, such as network segmentation, access control, system hardening, and data encryption.

Implementing security policies, procedures, and guidelines specific to OT environments ensures that security measures are consistently applied and followed by personnel. Regular security assessments of industrial networks and systems help identify vulnerabilities, assess risk, and prioritize security measures.

Training employees on cybersecurity best practices for industrial environments, including recognizing and reporting security incidents, is critical for maintaining a strong security posture.

Additionally, deploying solutions that provide visibility and threat detection capabilities enables organizations to monitor, detect, and respond to cyber threats in real time, minimizing the potential impact of cyber attacks.

Advancing OT Security with Privileged Access Management (PAM)

Privileged access management (PAM) plays a crucial role in advancing OT security. PAM solutions enable organizations to secure access to critical systems, data, and processes by managing and controlling privileged access.

By enforcing privileged access policies, least privilege principles, and multi-factor authentication, organizations can reduce the risk of unauthorized access. Additionally, auditing privileged access activities in industrial control systems provides critical visibility into potential security breaches and enables proactive threat management.

Integrating PAM solutions into OT environments further strengthens overall cybersecurity posture, ensuring only authorized individuals have access to critical systems, data, and processes.

Assessing OT Cybersecurity in Critical Infrastructures

Assessing the cybersecurity of OT systems in critical infrastructure is essential for identifying vulnerabilities, mitigating risk, and improving security measures. Cybersecurity assessments involve evaluating physical access, network security, system vulnerabilities, security policies, and compliance with safety regulations and best practices.

Through cybersecurity assessments, organizations gain critical insights into potential weaknesses, security gaps, and areas of improvement, enabling them to develop risk management strategies, prioritize security measures, and protect critical infrastructure from cyber threats.

A Glimpse into OT Cybersecurity Assessment

Cybersecurity assessments provide organizations with a comprehensive view of the security of their industrial systems. These assessments involve evaluating physical access controls, network security measures, system vulnerabilities, and compliance with safety regulations and cybersecurity best practices.

By conducting regular cybersecurity assessments, organizations can identify weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and potential risks, allowing them to take proactive measures to enhance security.

Cybersecurity assessments not only ensure compliance with safety regulations but also enable organizations to develop risk management strategies, allocate resources effectively, and protect critical infrastructure from cyber threats.

Securing Industrial Networks – A Step Forward

Implementing security measures is critical for protecting industrial networks from cyber threats. Industrial networks should be isolated from the outside world to minimize the risk of unauthorized access.

Proper access control policies must be in place to prevent unauthorized access, and security solutions like firewalls and intrusion detection systems should be deployed to detect and respond to cyber threats.

Regular network monitoring and threat intelligence updates are necessary to identify and mitigate potential security incidents in industrial networks. By securing industrial networks, organizations can take a significant step forward in protecting critical infrastructure from cyber attacks.

How does OT Security Contribute to a Zero Trust Framework?

OT security plays a crucial role in implementing a zero trust framework, which emphasizes verifying, monitoring, and securing privileged access to systems, networks, and data.

OT security ensures that trust is not automatically granted to devices, networks, or systems, but rather, access is only granted based on verified identities, security policies, and risk assessments.

By integrating OT security measures into a zero trust framework, organizations can enhance their cybersecurity posture, provide a single view of industrial systems, control access, and reduce cyber risk.


In conclusion, OT security plays a crucial role in ensuring the safety and reliability of critical infrastructure. The convergence of IT and OT brings about new challenges and cyber risks that need to be addressed.

Implementing cybersecurity measures and advancing OT security with privileged access management are essential steps in safeguarding OT systems. Assessing OT cybersecurity and securing industrial networks are also important for maintaining a robust security posture.

Furthermore, integrating OT security into a zero trust framework enhances overall security and resilience. By prioritizing OT security and adopting best practices, organizations can mitigate risks and protect their critical infrastructure from cyber threats.

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