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Living on the (OT) Edge

Technical business environments are rapidly expanding. Innovations in technology and a larger focus on big data mean that the “edge” of OT (operational technology) and IT (information technology) is continuously expanding.

As businesses focus on gathering, analyzing, and processing more data from their environments to optimize performance, manage operations remotely, and improve safety, that means there’s more to consider when it comes to securing your OT environment.

What is the “Edge” Anyway?

In order to secure the edge, it first has to be defined. After all, you can’t secure what you don’t know.

In broad terms, the “edge” refers to the computing infrastructure and devices that are closest to where data is being generated. This includes a wide range of devices, such as sensors, cameras, robots, edge computing devices, and infrastructure like switches and gateways.

Edge computing plays a huge role in keeping operations running smoothly. Automation and operators can quickly identify and respond to issues, optimize processes, and minimize downtime by having data processed closer to the source.

Unlike in centralized or SaaS (software-as-a-service) infrastructure, edge devices can function independently, providing vital data to operators to keep operations up and running. Edge computing allows operators to ensure resilience and continuity, even in the face of unexpected events or disruptions.

What’s at the Edge of Your OT Network?

Operational environments are engineered with specific operational needs in mind. Each solution is uniquely designed to meet the needs, space, environment, and output. OT environments are feats of engineering and works of art.

Unfortunately for operators, administrators, and defenders, this means there are no limits to what devices can be found in an edge environment.

Common edge devices include factory equipment like HMIs (human machine interfaces), PLCs (programmable logic controllers), sensors, and more. Day-to-day operational data, sensor data, performance, and telemetry data are examples of what could be found at the edge. This data is often proprietary, critical for daily function, and disruptive to normal operations in the event of its compromise.

Historically, these OT devices weren’t designed with secure data flow to other networks in mind. As companies introduce new software and hardware to outfit these devices for new network connections, that adds another layer of nuances to consider when it comes to securing ICS data!

Watch Your Step — Mind the OT Edge!

The steps that you can take to secure the data and devices at the edge of your OT environment fall in line with many of the tips and suggestions we’ve heard for enterprise and IT environments:

  • Network monitoring and having a baseline of normal activity will make it easier to identify any anomalous behavior. Monitoring east-to-west traffic, or movement within a segment of the network, is just as important as monitoring communications in and out of the segment.
  • Establishing policies and procedures, in conjunction with monitoring, can also limit the impact of bad actors or unauthorized access if it’s caught early enough.
  • Segmenting your OT network from the rest of the organization makes it more difficult for users to gain unauthorized access to sensitive information.
  • Maintaining regular access control will limit who has permission to access and connect to devices at the edge. This reduces the likelihood of using compromised employee credentials to access edge data and devices.
Mind the Edge - OT Edge blog

While all these are important in protecting OT environments, careful consideration has to be given to how security projects and initiatives are implemented.

Long or difficult implementation of hardware, software, or processes could disrupt day-to-day tasks and normal operations, resulting in impossible downtime for critical infrastructure

Knowing your environment inside and out can make it easier to construct a realistic and scalable security plan that meets the unique needs of your ICS environment.

Visibility Without the Hassle

SynSaber makes it simple to monitor network traffic and gain visibility with a rapid deployment timeline. Our sensors are vendor agnostic, so we can work using existing technology — without additional hardware.

We make it easy to customize your industrial visibility program. Keep track of what’s important and scale as needed with flexible deployment options that meet your needs.

Schedule a demo or contact us to learn more!