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2024: OT Cybersecurity Threats and the Impact of IIoT Devices in Critical Industrial Environments

These 2024 cybersecurity predictions were contributed by Kevin Kumpf, Chief OT/ICS Strategist at Cyolo.

Kevin Kumpf, Chief OT/ICS Strategist at Cyolo

The Risk of Physical Safety from OT/ICS Cyber Threats

Protecting workers from the physical safety threats imposed by cyberattacks will be a critical area of concern for organizations in 2024 and beyond. We're already seeing cybercriminals breach sensitive geographical information impacting the physical safety of individuals such as the theft of school blueprints in Minneapolis. This same element of attack is being leveraged in industrial settings.

Just as malicious actors steal intelligence such as campus blueprints, alarm schematics and the placement of surveillance cameras, hackers in industrial settings steal and hack into devices capable of malfunctioning, or systems that serve different locations like energy or water supply – essentially causing serious harm to workers and largely impacting society as a whole. For example, workers can be seriously injured when a blast furnace or industrial boiler malfunctions from unauthorized interference, or people across locations could lose energy.

Security leaders in critical infrastructure settings will need to place more emphasis on securing OT/ICS environments, especially as the increase in technologies and machinery elevate the cyber threat to workers’ physical safety. As hackers continue to advance their attack methods in both IT and OT environments, security leaders will need to find the right balance between securing both systems, especially as these environments increasingly converge.

IIoT Devices: A Double-Edged Sword for Critical Industrial Environments

In the coming year, industrial sectors will experience rising threats to OT and ICS security due to the increasing number of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). IIoT devices have historically enabled a wide range of advancements in smart factories, making them more efficient, safe and intelligent. For example, AI/ML-driven technologies can be used to automate factory lighting, monitor vital signs and performance metrics and enhance overall worker safety. AI-intelligent heavy machinery and recently deployed factory robot dogs can also assist in manufacturing processes and ensure the safety of workers in the field.

However, the accelerated integration of IIoT devices will also make organizations significantly more vulnerable to cyber threats. Smart factories generate lots of critical data, and this vast amount of information will become increasingly difficult to analyze and secure effectively, which can hinder its optimization and place organizations at risk of cyberattacks. This upcoming year and beyond, we’ll see a growing demand for OT security experts, as there is currently a skills gap in this area which organizations will seek to be filled, especially as vulnerable smart technologies continue to be integrated within these environments.

Automation’s Unique Impact on the Industrial Job Market

AI technologies are on the rise, and many people are concerned about the impact on the job market. Rightfully so, as we’ve already witnessed companies conduct mass layoffs under the impression that ‘smart technologies’ are fully capable of replacing human work. However, in many industries – especially in industrial environments -, AI will enhance and support, not replace workers.

While automation will reduce the need for human workers to perform mundane tasks, there are still settings that remain critical in navigating complex contextual situations. Take for example, sorting through packages, it will benefit workers by limiting the number of injury-prone repetitive tasks they need to perform, but still the need for human understanding will be needed for specific products, deliveries or noticing details that otherwise would be lost in translation. The reality for 2024 will highlight the need for workers to be retrained and redeployed to roles such as overseeing new technologies, data analysis and OT security.

The rise of smart technologies, such as AI-enabled IoT and IIoT tools, will inevitably shake up the industrial job market. Workers will need to be prepared to adapt to the changing landscape by retraining for new jobs generated from the continuously evolving industrial landscape.


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