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How Manufacturers Can Strengthen OT Cybersecurity

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

In today's increasingly digitized manufacturing landscape, the importance of prioritizing operational technology (OT) cybersecurity cannot be overstated. As manufacturing companies connect their IT and OT environments, potential vulnerabilities arise, making them susceptible to cyberattacks that can disrupt production and compromise critical systems. However, the dissimilarity between IT and OT teams often leads to the oversight of cybersecurity risks. In light of the rising incidents of cyber threats targeting the manufacturing sector, it is crucial for manufacturers to take specific steps to strengthen their OT cybersecurity defenses.

Nick Creath, Sr. Global Product Manager, Cybersecurity Services, Rockwell Automation

We sat down with Nick Creath, Sr. Global Product Manager, Cybersecurity Services, Rockwell Automation, to discuss how manufacturers can strengthen their OT cybersecurity. What are the key considerations that manufacturing companies should prioritize when it comes to OT cybersecurity? How can these considerations help mitigate the risk of future breaches and successful attacks? The digitization of operations and the connection of various systems throughout the enterprise--especially the connection between IT and operational technology (OT) environments--introduces potential vulnerabilities that serve as entry points for cyberattacks. These attacks can spread and harm important systems and devices crucial for production. While IT security practices are robust, OT security environments are frequently overlooked or not given the same level of attention. IT and OT teams have clear priorities and objectives. IT teams prioritize data security, network infrastructure and application vulnerabilities, whereas OT teams are primarily dedicated to upholding the availability, reliability and safety of operational systems. This dissimilarity often results in the unintentional oversight of cybersecurity risks associated with the convergence of IT and OT domains. In light of the increasing incidents of ransomware, data breaches, and supply chain attacks targeting the manufacturing sector, what specific steps should manufacturers take to strengthen their OT cybersecurity defenses? To reduce the risk of cyberattacks, manufacturers must first determine where they are at risk of exposure. The connection of systems, specifically across IT and OT networks, creates entry points for cyberattacks that can spread to systems and devices responsible for production. By conducting regular risk assessments, manufacturers can identify vulnerabilities and assess the effectiveness of existing security controls. Manufacturers can strengthen their OT security networks by encouraging collaboration between their IT and OT teams. This collaboration is vital to fully understand the system's architecture and vulnerabilities. By proactively identifying and addressing potential risks, manufacturers can reinforce the security of their critical assets, maintain uninterrupted production and establish strong defenses against growing cyber threats. How can manufacturers effectively safeguard their OT investments against productivity loss, equipment compromise, and sensitive data theft? Are there any industry best practices or frameworks they should follow? It is necessary for manufacturers to build a strong security plan that includes the latest threat intelligence, best practices and technology. This involves regular risk assessments, enforcing strict access controls and network segmentation, using advanced detection and response technologies and thorough incident response plans. Additionally, continual training and education initiatives for employees and stakeholders are significant components of this approach as they help build a culture of cybersecurity awareness and vigilance. Finally, it is important that companies be well versed in relevant cybersecurity standards and compliance requirements for the manufacturing industry such as NIST Cybersecurity Framework, ISA/IEC 62443, or ISO 27001. These will help in aligning the manufacturer’s security program with these standards and frameworks. Given the adoption of Industry 4.0 solutions and the expanding risk landscape for manufacturers, how can companies strike a balance between embracing technological advancements and ensuring robust OT cybersecurity to protect their operations and data?

Balancing between the adoption technological advancements and the need for OT cybersecurity requires a proactive and strategic approach. Companies can start by taking cybersecurity into consideration from the early stages of technology adoption, following secure-by-design principles. This ensures that security measures are consistently implemented throughout the development process.

Additionally, applying strong network segmentation, access controls and employing a multi-layered defense-in-depth strategy strengthens protection. Regular updates, ongoing training, and active collaboration with industry peers further add to a thorough OT cybersecurity posture. By incorporating these strategies, companies can embrace technological advancements while safeguarding their critical operations and data from potential cyber threats.



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