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Operational Technology Players Come Out of the Shadows

Operational technology (OT) has long been hiding in the factories and sites of industrial installations, but things are changing.

Larry Loeb

October 23, 2019

3 Min Read

Operational technology (OT) has long been the relative of information technology that has been hiding in the factories and sites of industrial installations. OT consists of the hardware and software that is dedicated to monitoring and controlling physical devices such as valves, pumps, etc.

But there has been a rise lately in attacks on OT which creates and controls critical and industrial infrastructure. This rise impacts operational reliability and business risk across all industries, including utilities, manufacturing and oil & gas.

Ninety percent of OT organizations experienced at least one damaging attack in the last two years, according to a report made by Tenable and Ponemon Institute in March 2019. Seventy-seven percent of companies say that they are likely to become the target of a cybersecurity attack in the OT/CS space, says "The State of Industrial Cyber Security 2018," published by Kaspersky Lab in June 2018.

OT has typically in the past been managed as individual devices, which has made it very difficult for IT to maintain its cyber security mandate.

To respond to the evolving threat, the Operational Technology Cyber Security Alliance (OTCSA) has been established to help companies address the OT security challenges that continue to put operations and business at risk. It is a global operation, with headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland. ABB, Check Point Software, BlackBerry Cylance, Forescout, Fortinet, Microsoft, Mocana, NCC Group, Qualys, SCADAFence, Splunk and Wärtsilä have partnered to establish the OTCSA.

The OCTSA will be the first industry group that focuses on improving cyber risk posture by providing tangible architectural, implementation and process guidelines to OT operators. It is hoped that it can help navigate necessary changes, upgrades and integrations to evolving industry standards and regulations.

The security guidelines that the OCTSA will issue will cover the entire lifecycle -- procurement, development, deployment, installation, operation, maintenance and decommissioning -- and address aspects related to people, processes and technology.\r\nThe OTCSA mission is five-fold, according to a statement that the group issued.

1) Strengthen cyber-physical risk posture of OT environments and interfaces for OT/IT interconnectivity
2) Guide OT operators on how to protect their OT infrastructure based on a risk management process and reference architectures/designs which are demonstrably compliant with regulations and international standards, such as IEC 62443, NERC CIP and NIST 800-53.
3) Guide OT suppliers on secure OT system architectures, relevant interfaces and security functionalities.
4) Support the procurement, development, installation, operation, maintenance and implementation of a safer, more secure critical infrastructure.
5) Accelerate the time to adopt safer, more secure critical infrastructures.

Membership is open to any company that operates critical infrastructure or general OT systems to run its business (OT operators) as well as companies providing IT and OT solutions (solution providers).

Dean Weber, CTO of Mocana, commented that, "We are in a pivotal moment for critical infrastructure protection. As the nature of the threats we face becomes increasingly sophisticated, the OTCSA will provide an essential forum to bring together those who protect operational technology -- like Mocana -- and those who own and deploy it. Through listening to each other, we believe the entire OT sector can come together to make the world a safer place."

— Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek.

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About the Author(s)

Larry Loeb

Blogger, Informationweek

Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek. He has written a book on the Secure Electronic Transaction Internet protocol. His latest book has the commercially obligatory title of Hack Proofing XML. He's been online since uucp "bang" addressing (where the world existed relative to !decvax), serving as editor of the Macintosh Exchange on BIX and the VARBusiness Exchange. His first Mac had 128 KB of memory, which was a big step up from his first 1130, which had 4 KB, as did his first 1401. You can e-mail him at [email protected].

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