4 Critical OT Security Challenges Putting Industrial Systems at Risk

FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) can often permeate even well-meaning discussions regarding the vulnerabilities of critical industrial infrastructures. Yet the fact remains that, with the proper insight, expertise, and security protocols, OT security operators can mitigate even the most critical threats to industrial systems.

This short list categorizes 4 of the most critical OT security challenges for industrial systems. With effective identification of ICS vulnerabilities and proper security protocols, even these challenges won’t disrupt the continued operation of our vital OT infrastructures.

OT Security Challenge #1: Legacy OS

Industrial systems equipped with legacy operating systems can provide significant OT security challenges. Outdated OS, like Windows XP and Windows 7, were already known for possessing numerous security vulnerabilities. But with Microsoft’s discontinuation of ongoing support, those already vulnerable operating systems continue to become that much more of a liability for industrial systems.

Unfortunately, updating the OS of some industrial systems is difficult—if not impossible. If outdated legacy operating systems cannot be updated, several steps can be taken to mitigate their inherent vulnerabilities. These include:

OT Security Challenge #2: The Internet

In the past several years, some have occasionally pushed industrial IoT as the inevitable future of ICS. But there will always remain an impassible roadblock. 

The problem is there, even in the name of IoT (Internet of Things). How can the Internet of Things become the backbone of ICS when the highest tiers of supervisory functions should never be connected to the internet?

The broader internet obviously can create numerous OT security challenges to industrial systems. Whether it’s potential IoT bots, DDoS attacks, malware, or forms of malevolent infiltration, unnecessary exposure of vital ICS infrastructure is rarely worth any increased accessibility provided by IoT.  

As always, the most vital ICS digital infrastructure should remain separate from the internet in all ways possible. Reliable security measures remain the best practice, even as new trends arise. 

OT Security Challenge #3: Removeable Devices and BYOD Policies

While BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies have become increasingly common across workforces, they remain a vulnerability for vital industrial infrastructures. Either knowingly or unknowingly, devices can connect to ICS networks and become potential vectors of network infection. While solutions can be tricky, a clear understanding of a network and its vulnerabilities is necessary to develop sound security policies. 

Similarly, lax removable device policies can allow for significant ICS vulnerabilities. Therefore, employees should be made regularly aware of unauthorized device policies, and sites should be well-managed with regular compliance scans.

OT Security Challenge #4: Poor Visibility

ICS security operators hold a significant advantage over any external threats they may face. After all, they know their systems better than anyone. But poor visibility can limit that advantage. 

With the large-scale, complex integrated networks of OT systems—ICS security operators require expansive visibility into their systems to remain light-footed and well-equipped to address OT security challenges. To prevent delays or disruptions of essential industrial services, industrial security operators need the right tools.

SynSaber: Helping Operators Mitigate OT Security Challenges

The best OT cybersecurity tools maximize the insights of those capable of addressing ICS vulnerabilities. In addition, those tools are easy-to-implement and low-footprint—they don’t further complicate already complex OT environments or add vulnerabilities by making OT systems contingent on additional hardware.

That’s why SynSaber developed a low-hardware, sensor-based ICS cybersecurity tool that maximizes operators’ insights into their industrial environments. If you’re interested in learning more about our flexible, future-proof industrial cybersecurity solution, reach out to us and schedule a demo today. We’re on a mission to empower operators with visibility and detection at the OT edge.