Today, most organizations use information technology. However, some establishments use operational technology as well. There is a bit of a difference between IT and OT. Where information technology covers most of the computers, software, and data, operational technology covers hardware and software that controls machinery and various other things in an industrial environment.
Some industrial companies use massive machines. They range from simple bulldozers to large cranes that move building material. While some of these don’t require too much software to run, these machines can still be hacked. Some cranes and other large machines even use radio towers to control and operate—these are at risk as well. With the Internet of Things (IoT) expanding and advancing every day, more and more technology is being integrated into establishments.
What is IT?
IT stands for “information technology”. This is something that most people use every day, especially if they have a job. Most companies use computers and a network to connect all of them for proper operation. This includes things like Wi-Fi, printers, mobile devices, and even fax machines. Everything is connected through a system and that system manages data.
It is important that every node is checked when it comes to cybersecurity. Every point of access can be targeted by a bad actor, so there are heavy requirements to keep these safe. Most cybersecurity comes from IT audits and risk assessments, but there are many other options to keep in mind. Things like tabletop testing and security awareness can help a lot in IT.
What is OT?
OT, or operational technology, is somewhat different from IT. This category is suited toward industrial establishments who work with big machinery like cranes and excavators. OT systems maintain and manage these machines, especially since some of them are incorporating more and more computers into their procedures. Even the simplest program can be taken over by a bad actor.
There are many examples of operational technology. These include:
- Supervisory control and data acquisition systems (SCADA)
- Computer numerical control (DCS)
- Programmable logic controllers (PLCs)
- Scientific equipment
- Lighting controls
- Building Management Systems (BMS)
- Various other energy monitoring and transportation systems
These systems have recently come under attacks from hackers. Much like the Colonial Pipeline attack in 2021, hackers are becoming more and more aware of how easy it is for some systems to be taken over. As such, the government has imposed new requirements over the past couple of years for OT systems to be strengthened with cybersecurity.
Cybersecurity for OT
While IT and OT systems are fundamentally different, both of these require similar cybersecurity standards. The great thing about these defenses is that they can be used for both types of systems. IT and OT operate differently, but there are plenty of attacks that affect them the same way. As such, the regulations that the government has created are similar as well. Unfortunately, many OT systems are lagging behind in updates and other various security needs.
This is one of the most basic forms of cybersecurity that most establishments need. An IT audit is a test of controls and the implementation of proper security protocols. A third party will look into systems that are connected to the network and verify things are up to date. Analysts gather evidence of these things and submit them as a report. These work in both OT and IT environments since they both use controls and various other security patches. Even though there are many smaller programs and operations, they still need to be checked.
Penetration tests are a simulated attack on a system. Whether IT or OT, there are access points that hackers can exploit. Even an unprotected Wi-Fi connection can cause catastrophic damage. These controlled attacks will let security analysts know whether or not a control can be entered or taken over. The government has issued compliance regulations for OT systems to maintain purple and red team tests, which are to be provided by a third-party cybersecurity firm.
While OT and IT are different, there have been strides to integrate them together. This is being called “IT/OT Convergence”. Connecting an OT and IT system together benefits the entire company. By bringing them together, processes and management can be contained in one network, making it easy to monitor, control, and most importantly, protect everything under an umbrella.
Cybersecurity is important for both, but if they’re connected together, it makes it easier to put up digital walls around one system rather than needing to focus on multiple ones. Because of this, both IT and OT systems are stronger. Not only can companies defend and monitor more easily, but they will also become more compliant with government regulations.
Balancing OT and IT systems is important as well, however. As the convergence becomes more and more realized, companies will have their teams working closer together. It will lower costs across many areas, making it beneficial for the company past connectivity and networks. However, converging the two types of systems can be complicated, so it’s important to make sure that the company is ready for it.
Operation technology is different from information technology. Where IT functions around networks, data storage, and processing, OT correlates to machinery, controls, and monitoring procedures. Despite them being different, however, both are needed to keep an industrial company going. With the Internet of Things continuing to progress forward, though, it is becoming increasingly important to integrate IT and OT systems together.
This IT/OT convergence can help a company in the long run. It will not only make things easier between a company’s teams, but it will also reduce costs for the company. Some of the cybersecurity programs necessary to be compliant with regulations will overlap, saving even more money in the long run. It’s something to keep in mind as the Internet and technology continue to advance and cybersecurity will always be necessary.