Don’t Try to Use IT Cybersecurity Tools in the OT Environment

   Mar 20, 2024 | Radiflow team

The integration of Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) environments has led to improved efficiency across industries. However,  the convergence of these two domains has also exposed the limitations of traditional IT cybersecurity tools when applied to the OT environment. You can’t just extend tools from the IT side into the OT environment and expect similar results. Here are many reasons why:

Lack of Understanding of OT Systems

IT cybersecurity tools are designed with a focus on IT networks and applications. These are often standardized around the Windows operating system, Ethernet communication protocols, and popular SaaS apps like Salesforce. They might not fully comprehend the unique nature of OT systems, which often involve specialized hardware, unique industrial protocols, and legacy equipment. This can result in misconfigurations and ineffective protection measures.

Incompatibility with Legacy Systems

IT environments are updated frequently. PCs and operating systems, routers, and servers are typically upgraded every 2-3 years. OT environments, on the other hand, frequently include legacy devices that were developed decades ago, before modern cybersecurity measures became a prominent concern. Legacy systems often lack the capabilities necessary to support the installation or operation of modern IT security tools, making it challenging to implement consistent security measures.

Disruption of Critical Operations

Upon detecting a cyber threat, IT analysts feel comfortable shutting down a PC or network segment, restoring backups, and returning infected devices to operation. If the process takes an hour or a day, they don’t hesitate to do what they have to do. But they wouldn’t dare try that in an OT environment that involves industrial control systems (ICS) responsible for managing critical processes, such as manufacturing, energy distribution, and infrastructure management. Trying to deploy IT security tools in such an environment could inadvertently disrupt operations, potentially leading to production downtime and safety risks.

Real-Time Requirements

Traditional IT security tools are seldom concerned with real-time effects of their cyber response. However, trying to IT cyber techniques to the OT environment might introduce a degree of latency that could impact the timely execution of commands or data transmission within the OT environment.

Diverse Communication Protocols

IT networks tend to run on one or a few widely adopted protocols such as Ethernet. OT networks grew up in a very vendor-specific environment, employing various proprietary and specialized communication protocols that are quite different from those in typical IT networks. IT security tools are not equipped to understand or work with these proprietary protocols, leaving gaps in protection that attackers can exploit.

Limited Visibility

IT security tools are often designed to monitor and protect standard IT assets, such as servers, workstations, and network devices. They might struggle to provide comprehensive visibility into the unique components and processes within the OT environment, leaving blind spots that attackers could target.

Risks to Safety Systems

IT security breaches primarily deal with data confiscation and financial losses. In OT environments, the consequences of a cyberattack can extend well beyond data and finances. Attacks on critical infrastructure can impact vital functions such as water distribution as well as public safety and even the environment (think nuclear waste processing). Misconfigured or incompatible IT security tools might inadvertently compromise the safety mechanisms in place within the OT environment.

Regulatory and Compliance Challenges

OT industries are often subject to regulatory requirements and compliance standards that differ from those in the IT sector. IT security tools might not address these industry-specific requirements, potentially leading to non-compliance issues.

Resource Constraints

Many OT systems, like PLCs, are designed for specific functions. While virtually limitless PCs and servers are endowed with gigabytes of memory, multiple cores and threads, and astounding clock speeds, OT devices often have limited computational resources and storage capacities. Attempting to install and run resource-intensive IT security tools could strain these OT systems, negatively affecting their performance and stability.

Human Factors

IT security tools often require constant monitoring, updates, and fine-tuning by cybersecurity professionals. However, there is often a shortage of personnel OT expertise, making it challenging to effectively manage and respond to cybersecurity threats in the converged environment.

Addressing the Shortcomings

Organizations that attempt to extend their IT cybersecurity regime into the OT realm are doomed to failure. Instead, they must adopt a tailored approach that considers the unique characteristics of the OT environment. This involves specialized cybersecurity solutions designed for industrial settings and an understanding of the potential impacts of security measures on critical operations.

Radiflow’s iSID Threat Detection System is designed for the OT environment. Embellished with industry-specific capabilities, iSID does not carry the shortcomings of IT cybersecurity products, but, instead, delivers thorough protection based on deep knowledge and experience of ICS networks and industrial devices.  

Contact Radiflow to learn more about iSIDCIARA, and OT cybersecurity services.

Don’t Try to Use IT Cybersecurity Tools in the OT Environment

IT cyber tools are not designed for the OT environment and can damage it

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