What is the Value of OT Cyber-Risk Assessment?

   Jun 17, 2022 | Radiflow team

The viability of any project or task is directly linked to the value it produces, i.e. if value exceeds costs, the project is worthwhile; otherwise, it’s a losing proposition.

Applying this simple model to cyber-security, and namely to OT-security, presents the problem: how do you determine the value of an OT-security system that successfully protects the industrial network? The costs of securing the OT network are known, but what are they measured against?

One solution is to rely on industry and regional benchmarks: find out what equivalent companies (by industry, size, locale, etc.) had invested in, and replicate their system. While this crude method of planning (and obviously I’m over-simplifying) leaves out many of the network and the company’s unique characteristics – no two industrial networks face the same threats or employ the same devices – it allows you, with just the right amount of customization, to bring your OT security “within the (very large) ballpark” of your reference group’s OT systems’ value. Plus, in lieu of a better option, it’s the best you got.

In time, and as the field of OT security matured, better ways to calculate the value of OT security were developed. The ARC Advisory Group’s formulation of the different stages of cyber-security maturity describes this evolution as transitioning from Vulnerability Management – installing passive defence systems that identify vulnerabilities in the OT network along with effective matching protections, to Threat Management – installing active defence mechanisms that react to the entire security environment, including threat agent capabilities, the user organization’s security needs, per-business unit security, and more. (Much of the principles of Active Defence and its implementation as Risk Management are embedded into the IEC 62443 standard, which in many ways represents the maturing of OT security).

The ARC Advisory Group’s model for OT security maturityThe introduction of Risk Management as an overarching method of benchmarking, planning and monitoring the effectiveness (read: value) of the OT security system allows for a much higher level of optimization, meaning that you get the most security for every dollar spent.

This is done by re-defining the role of the OT security system: from merely identifying vulnerabilities and installing protections that prevent them from materializing as cyber-attacks, to minimizing the impact – the damages to the organization and its people – of a successful cyber-attack.

This is based on a number of underlying assumptions and guidelines:

  1. You can’t and shouldn’t try to protect your network against all known vulnerabilities. You need a method of prioritizing threats and prioritizing their (often costly) corresponding mitigation measures.
  2. There’s no need to protect against an identified vulnerability if it had been deemed irrelevant to your industry and locale.
  3. If a successful (debilitating) cyber-attack on a specific business unit (or Zone, as defined in IEC 62443) is expected to cause little or no damage, there’s no point of mitigating its underlying threat.
  4. How and what to protect depends in part on the user organization’s preferences, including risk aversion, compliance status with various security standards, budget, etc.
  5. Due to the sheer volume of variables involved (see next section) it is impossible and counter-productive to “eyeball” OT risk. There’s an absolute need for an objective, dedicated risk assessment platform.

Model and inputs

Given the above, a network’s total risk can be formulated as the aggregate of the impact of a successful attack on each business unit, weighted by probability of each such attack materializing.

This equation relies on multiple inputs, both intrinsic and extrinsic to the OT network:

Intrinsic values:

  • User organization’s locale
  • User organization’s industry/sector
  • Device and vendor-specific vulnerabilities introduced by networked devices (e.g. PLCs, HMIs, etc.) Device-specific vulnerabilities are usually derived from CVEs (Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures) issued by research bodies such as the US National Cyber Security Divisionof the US Department of Homeland Security
  • Topology-related vulnerabilities caused by inter-zone lateral movement of threats, use of certain communication protocols, etc.
  • Groupings of devices into business units/zones that share the same security profile
  • Impact of a debilitating attack on each business unit (calculated in collaboration with the network owner, accounting for financial, competitive, reputation and compliance damages)
  • Mitigation measures already installed

Extrinsic values

  • Attacker capabilities for known threats relevant to the specific OT network (derived from Threat Intelligence sources such as MITRE ATT&CK)
  • Modeling of mitigation measures’ effectiveness
  • Changes to attackers’ assumed motivation to attack (e.g. heightened risk of state-sponsored attacks as a result of international conflicts)

Given these multiple, vast datasets, there’s an obvious need for a methodological risk management process that’s able to produce actionable decision-making information for CISOs and other business stakeholders (CRO, OT manager) responsible for business continuity. This includes key indicators, comprehensive security reports, and a highly optimized OT security roadmap that mitigates the most risk per dollar spent.

The added value of risk assessment (using Radiflow CIARA)

Radiflow’s CIARA is the first-of-its-kind automated, fully-IEC 62443 compliant risk assessment and management platform for industrial networks.

To assess the risk posture of an OT network, CIARA uses a self-learned, non-destructive digital image of the OT network, rather than running analyses on the OT network itself, to ensure that no damage is done to the network. This is made possible thanks to the complete accuracy of the Radiflow-generated digital image of the OT network and the slow rate of changes to the network, so that a days-old digital image can still be used for analysis.

CIARA’s breach-and-attack (OT-BAS) simulation engine uses the thousands of data points listed above for numerous breach and attack iterations on each and every business process and Zone, to prioritize the most impactful threats – not necessarily those with a higher probability of materializing – and prioritize the corresponding mitigation controls for these threats. Network owners are able to further customize CIARA’s mitigation plans by accounting for available security budgets over time (by quarter) and by setting additional criteria, such as preference to beef up security for high-risk zones at the expense of low-risk zones, ensuring compliance as high priority, etc.

At the same time CIARA provides network owners with high-level key risk indexes for monitoring changes in risk posture. This include overall risk level, overall threat level (subject to detection of new threats and changes in attackers’ motivation) and control level, for completion of prescribed mitigation measures. Alongside these KPIs CIARA provides a host of customizable security reports used for threat mitigation and budgeting.

It’s clear to see that any project of setting up a new OT security system or improving an existing one could benefit from, and should start with a thorough risk assessment. Beyond producing a highly-optimized security plan, custom-tailored to minimize the impact of cyber-incidents by prioritizing the threats and mitigation measures most relevant to the OT network, regularly assessing and monitoring the changes in network risk allows tweaking mitigation plans based on new developments, and allows for better understanding of the organization’s threat environment by both technical personnel and decision makers.

We welcome you to schedule a personalized live demo of CIARA and of Radiflow’s entire OT security suite.

Radiflow’s CIARA industrial risk assessment and management platform enables OT organizations to maximize the value of their OT security by matching expenditure with the highest-value risk mitigation controls. The result is more and better OT security per dollar spent.

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