Alliance Forms to Focus on Securing Operational Technology

While mainly made up of vendors, the Operational Technology Cyber Security Alliance aims to offer security best practices for infrastructure operators and industrial partners.



Citing the increased risks to industrial control networks and operational technology from cyberattacks, 12 cybersecurity software makers and service providers launched the Operational Technology Cyber Security Alliance (OTCSA) on October 22.

The alliance is the fruit of more than a year of work by corporate members and aims to create best-practice and implementation guidance for those companies that monitor and control industrial and critical infrastructure using networked devices. The group hopes that the focus on cybersecurity will help operators harden their networks and make their operations more resilient to cyber-physical risk, the group stated.

"The alliance plans to go beyond the 'what' and move to the 'how,'" says Kevin Dunn, senior vice president at the NCC Group, one of the founding members. "Initial deliverables released at launch will help to define the problem space.... The alliance will move to providing implementation guidance that helps operators with very specific guidance in the near future."

Concerns about cyberattacks on operational technology — and the real-world impact of such attacks — have increasingly worried security professionals. Almost a quarter of operational networks — 22% — have signs of a compromised systems, according to a report collecting data from more than 1,800 operational networks and produced by critical-infrastructure cybersecurity maker CyberX. Such networks are highly vulnerable. Windows systems that are not up-to-date are running in 62% of networks, the company found in the report, published on October 22.   

"The data clearly illustrates that [Internet of Things and industrial-control system] networks continue to be soft targets for adversaries," the report stated.

Other studies have found similar patterns. While more than half of companies have suffered a cyberattack or outage in the past year, only 42% of utility professionals believe their company is ready for a cyberattack, and 35% have failed to even put a plan in place to respond to an operational technology (OT) attack, a Ponemon Institute report found.

Earlier this month, cloud security firm Netskope discovered that an unknown attacker targeted companies in the US petroleum industry using a remote access Trojan that had been used against retailers in previous attacks.

The alliance currently consists of 12 companies: ABB, Check Point Software, BlackBerry Cylance, Forescout, Fortinet, Microsoft, Mocana, NCC Group, Qualys, SCADAfence, Splunk, and Wärtsilä.

While the organization is entirely made up of OT and IT vendors at launch, critical infrastructure and industrial-control operators have been involved in the founding of the organization, and many are expected to join, NCC Group's Dunn says.

"Operator members have been involved in the foundation and architecture of the OTCSA, but indeed many more are needed to actively participate in the alliance going forward," Dunn adds. "The vendor members that are participating all represent vital parts of the OT and IT landscape from an asset and security perspective. "

The alliance expects to quickly increase its membership and publish new materials in the next six months. The alliance hopes the launch will help consolidate interest, adds Satish Gannu, chief security officer for robotics and industrial equipment maker ABB, also a member of the OTCSA. 

"It is a constant conversation that we are having with multiple IT and OT partners," he says. "We would like to get as many customers as possible on this, so we are letting people know we exist."

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Veteran technology journalist of more than 20 years. Former research engineer. Written for more than two dozen publications, including CNET News.com, Dark Reading, MIT's Technology Review, Popular Science, and Wired News. Five awards for journalism, including Best Deadline ... View Full Bio

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