Bridging the gap: Aligning OT security with the pace of new-gen technologies

plugging a gap


The convergence of IT and OT (Operational Technology) networks has been instrumental in driving operational efficiency and innovation across industries. As businesses are rapidly heading towards Industry 4.0, the benefits of this integration are clear.

However, with digital transformation comes the risks of a constantly expanding threat landscape. The merging of IT and OT environments has amplified the risk of wide-scale disruptions and sophisticated attacks like ransomware, extending from digital to physical infrastructures. These concerns are also evident in the growing demand for OT security, as the market is projected to reach $38.2 billion by 2028.

Today, the imperative for businesses is not just to acknowledge these evolving threats but to actively engage in closing the security gaps that threaten their operational resilience. So, how can businesses align their security strategies with the pace of technological advancement and emerging cyber threats in an expanding OT environment?

Understanding the OT threat landscape

Recent findings from Claroty's global survey reveal that ransomware attacks are now increasingly breaching the barriers to OT. Traditionally, such attacks primarily targeted IT environments. However, in 2023, around 37 percent of ransomware attacks impacted both the IT and OT environment, which is a 10 percent increase from just two years ago. This underscores the evolving nature of cyber threats and the pressing need for comprehensive security strategies.

Our study also found a concerning trend of businesses increasingly succumbing to the threat of disruptive attacks and meeting the attacker’s demands. Last year, nearly 69 percent of targeted organizations resorted to paying a ransom, a decision that caused both immediate financial strain and can lead to long-term reputational damage.

In fact, over half of the organizations that met the ransom demands suffered financial losses exceeding $100,000 USD, indicating the severe economic impact these incidents can have. Even beyond the financial damage, businesses face the significant risk of data loss, operational downtime, safety risks, and, in some cases, critical infrastructure damage.

As organizations grapple with these challenges, the role of cyber insurance is becoming widely influential. With 80 percent of businesses now having a cyber insurance plan, according to our survey, it's clear that the industry is seeking financial safety nets to mitigate the potential fallout of security incidents.

Cyber insurance is undoubtedly a strategic component of financial preparedness for businesses, but it shouldn’t eclipse the importance of proactive security measures. Insurers are increasingly demanding more stringent security measures as a prerequisite for coverage. So, the best bet for organizations is to start shifting towards a holistic approach to cybersecurity that prioritizes risk mitigation and operational resilience over reactive actions like financial compensation.

Addressing the risks of integrating new technologies within OT environments

The recent boom in AI adoption has also made its way into OT infrastructures, and is creating a new layer of risks for an already complex ecosystem. According to our research, 61 percent of respondents are already leveraging security tools that incorporate generative AI, yet nearly half reported increased security concerns over its use. This paradox highlights the delicate balance required when adopting new-gen technologies.

For example, AI can improve system monitoring by identifying and responding to unusual patterns or anomalies in real-time, which might indicate a cybersecurity threat. However, threat actors are aware of the organization's reliance on AI for security. They might leverage adversarial AI techniques to create malware that continuously alters its code or behavior to avoid recognition by AI-based detection tools. This constant evolution of malware can outpace the AI's learning capabilities, leading to a scenario where the system fails to recognize and respond to an actual threat, thereby compromising the OT environment.

Therefore, ensuring OT security in the age of AI requires a nuanced approach that includes thorough risk assessments and the development of robust security protocols tailored to the unique demands of these technologies. It's not enough to merely adopt new tools; organizations must also invest in the skills and knowledge necessary to effectively manage and secure these technologies. This involves continuous monitoring, regular updates, and the adoption of best practices in cybersecurity to safeguard against potential threats. By doing so, businesses can harness the benefits of AI and other emerging technologies while maintaining the integrity and security of their OT environments.

Businesses must also prioritize comprehensive risk management frameworks that encompass regular vulnerability assessments, robust data backup and recovery plans. Such measures aim to prevent incidents like ransomware and ensure that organizations are prepared to respond effectively should an attack occur.

Moreover, the cultivation of a security-aware culture across all levels of the organization is crucial. Security is not solely the domain of IT departments but a collective responsibility that requires awareness and vigilance from every employee. By fostering an environment where security best practices are embedded in daily operations, organizations can significantly reduce their vulnerability to ransomware and other cyber threats.

Industry regulations, standards, and OT security investments

The landscape of OT security is increasingly shaped by industry regulations and standards, with our survey indicating that 45 percent of respondents view TSA Security Directives as having the most significant impact on their security priorities and investments. While compliance is essential, it should not be the sole focus of an organization's cybersecurity strategy. Instead, businesses must look beyond the minimum requirements, adopting a comprehensive approach to security that aligns with best practices and addresses the unique challenges of their operational environments. This involves conducting regular risk assessments, implementing robust security measures, and fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

By doing so, organizations can ensure compliance with current standards and resilience against emerging threats. The evolving regulatory landscape requires a proactive stance, with investments in security technologies and practices that anticipate future requirements and challenges. The imperative for businesses to adapt and evolve their OT security strategies has never been more critical. Embracing this journey of continuous improvement and adaptation will not only safeguard the technological backbone of our industries but also secure a path of sustainable growth and innovation in the digital era.

Image Credit: wan wei/Shutterstock

Andrew Lintell is General Manager, EMEA, Claroty

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