Securing Operational Technology in the IT and OT Convergence

by | May 27, 2024 | CIO Best Practices, Cybersecurity

IT/OT convergence is a trend every CIO must embrace. It integrates information technology (IT) which focuses on data-centric computing, with operational technology (OT) which monitors events processes and devices so businesses can adjust as needed. Although the integration will bring overall benefits, it poses its share of obstacles to leaders merging the two worlds.

This article will discuss the challenges of IT/OT convergence and explain how you can secure them in your organization.

What is IT/OT Convergence?

Many companies are familiar with IT, which focuses on data and communication. But what is OT? And how can the two converge?

OT focuses on the devices that gather data. Traditionally, it focused on non-network devices. It uses devices to process, store, and exchange data.

In the past, IT was not integrated with OT. The devices could not share information and communicate with other systems. Current technology is promoting integration through the development and deployment of IoT devices.

IoT devices are sensors that monitor real-world conditions. They measure temperature, pressure, dimensions, and chemical characteristics. They also turn commands and instructions into physical actions so systems can communicate across networks.

Cybersecurity Challenges of IT/OT Convergence

IT/OT convergence will lead to benefits in the long run, but leaders will deal with short-term issues, specifically in the cybersecurity space. Here are some to consider.

  • Lack of Collaboration: Historically, most IT and OT teams have worked separately. The convergence of the departments means they must learn to work together. This can lead to immediate challenges concerning operational adjustments, duplicated materials, and possible security risks. Teams must learn to communicate effectively to keep systems safe.
  • Legacy OT Systems: Most systems last about five years before they become outdated. OT systems can last for decades. However, they will lack updated security. Teams will be unable to update features due to existing designs and protocols. As a result, all devices must be evaluated before they are converged.
  • Lack of Insight: Teams use valuable insights to determine the security of their systems. OT systems may not provide the discoverability needed to provide insights. It may also not match up with modern remote configuration and management techniques. Administrators who lack visibility will be unable to secure devices leading to security risks.
  • Issues with Upgrades: OT systems must function 24/7. Turning them off can result in downtime that leads to a lack of productivity and loss of revenue. This means that even systems that can handle updates cannot be shut down to accept them.
  • Disruption: An IT/OT integration leads to a disruption in service. It can increase costs and reduce productivity. Additionally, it can distract teams so they lose sight of security measures.

How CIOs Can Secure IT/OT Convergence

Despite challenges, CIOs can ensure a successful IT/OT convergence with the following strategies and best practices:

  • Communicate Goals: Teams must be aware of convergence goals to ensure everyone understands objectives and remains on the same page.
  • Explain Overlap: Workers must understand how IT and OT will overlap in their department. A visual picture will help them determine the best management and security practices moving forward.
  • Define Roles and Responsibilities: An IT/OT convergence may change the roles and responsibilities of your workers. Ensure each team member receives an outline that clearly defines their updated duties.
  • Provide Training: Training ensures workers understand updated processes given the introduction of the convergence. You may also provide cross-training to ensure employees comprehend the needs of other employees.
  • Identify the Right Tools: Your convergence process will be smoother with the right deployment tools. The tools you choose should assist with discovery, configuration, management, and security. They should provide visibility and control over assets.
  • Adjust as Needed: Leaders and teams should continue to measure how their IT/OT convergence helps their organization achieve its business goals. They should review metrics regularly to ensure their new processes meet business needs. They should adjust processes as needed.

Additionally, leaders can adapt to IT/OT convergence with a three-step approach as follows:

  • Organizational: This stage ensures teams can collaborate under the guidance of a senior manager.
  • Technical: The technical phase involves the design and development of the IT/OT architecture.
  • Operational: This final phase of IT/OT convergence involves deploying new processes and ensuring they meet company needs.

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