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While IT systems are designed for various uses for people, devices, and workloads, OT systems are instead purpose-built to automate specific industrial applications, presenting some key differences in how they are secured.
One challenge lies in the technology life cycle. That of an OT system can span decades, whereas the life cycles of IT systems, such as laptops and servers, are often between four and six years. In practical terms, this means OT security measures often need to account for infrastructure that’s out of date, and may not even be possible to patch.
Some OT systems are also highly regulated. For example, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations require the manufacturers of diagnostic machines to support them for 20 years from the date of deployment. OT systems are also managed by business units, and CIOs and CISOs are not typically responsible for procuring, managing, or securing these systems.
OT and IT security do have something important in common, however: IT and OT both increasingly depend on connections to the internet or public networks.
Years ago, OT assets weren’t connected to the internet, so they weren’t exposed to web-borne threats like malware, ransomware attacks, and hackers. Then, as digital transformation initiatives and IT-OT convergence expanded, many organizations added point solutions to their infrastructure to address specific issues, such as patching. This approach led to complex networks in which systems didn’t share information, and therefore couldn’t provide full visibility to those managing them.
Industrial control systems (ICS)—the devices, controls, and networks that manage different industrial processes—are critical in maintaining operations and revenue streams. Compromise of common industrial systems, such as supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, distributed control systems (DCS), and various customized applications, can have massive consequences for an organization, making them attractive targets for cyberattacks.
IT and OT networks are often disparate systems, unable to track activities holistically across an organization’s ecosystem as OT network teams report to the COO, while IT network teams report to the CIO. Each of the teams protects just half of the total ecosystem, simultaneously dividing and duplicating security and threat management efforts—and making it much more difficult to protect the organization from cyberthreats.
OT systems include sensors, monitors, actuators, generators, industrial robots, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), remote processing units (RPUs), and other technologies that, today, are part of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). OT devices can include dangerous machinery, and ensuring their security is crucial to ensuring human safety as associated cyber risk grows—Gartner has predicted that cybercriminals will have managed to weaponize OT environments to physically harm humans by 2025.
Wam Voster, Senior Research Director, Gartner
Operational technologies vary widely, as do today’s available security solutions—but there are certain broad steps you should take as part of any effective OT security strategy:
A zero trust approach is the most effective way to ensure robust OT security, with adaptive, context-based application access that doesn’t depend on network access. With an effective zero trust architecture in place, any user—an employee, a contractor, or a third party—can only access the applications and systems they need to do their job, with no complex firewall stacks or VPNs required, all while your apps and network stay invisible to the open internet.
Zscaler Private Access™ (ZPA™) is the world’s most deployed zero trust network access (ZTNA) platform, providing:
Check out these video case studies from our customers to see what made ZPA the clear choice for their OT environments:
Zero Trust Secure Remote Access to OT/ICS at a GlanceTake a look
Secure Remote Access for OT SystemsLearn more
Secure Private AccessLearn more
Securing Cloud Transformation with a Zero Trust ApproachGet the paper
Gartner Market Guide for Zero Trust Network AccessGet the full guide
MAN Energy Systems Case StudyRead now