We hear it all the time from security marketers and evangelists alike. "Information technology and operational technology are converging!" It's a simplistic way of characterizing what is a highly complex web of digital transformations affecting a broad range of industries, from manufacturing to energy to real estate.
But the statement is only half true. IT and OT are converging from a technology perspective, but the two disciplines are lagging from a governance and management perspective.
When I was first stepped-in as the chief technology officer of New Jersey, a veteran of the state's enterprise IT agency gave me a simple piece of advice. Having served decades in government, he had learned one indisputable truth: "Technology is the easy; culture is the hard part."
As I speak with chief information security officers (CISOs), security operations center (SOC) analysts, and plant engineers in the course of my work, I can't help but relate those words to industrial enterprises facing the disruptive forces of an increasingly connected world. As IT and OT technologies converge, their respective people and processes remain separated by different professional and intellectual cultures. This needs to change.
Perhaps the most obvious cultural divide between the two disciplines is how each thinks about risk. On the IT side, risk is largely calculated in the context of security. This means that consequences are often measured in terms of data loss, reputational harm, and legal or regulatory liability. On the OT side, risk is all about safety. The consequences range from plant downtime and the associated profit loss to physical damage and personal injury.
In addition, IT and OT personnel might as well speak different languages: OT practitioners deal in obscure and often vendor-proprietary protocols, while IT professionals speak an almost universal vernacular dominated with a growing bias for open source technology. This language barrier hinders cross-functional collaboration and perpetuates siloed cultures — both of which are incompatible with mitigating the cyber-risks of converging IT and OT systems.
Finally, there's the issue of leadership. Most organizations still have not decisively adapted their organizational structures to address this new normal. While more and more CISOs are gaining responsibility for OT security, many enterprises are still federated in their governance structure. This perpetuates the institutional divides between IT and OT, and also contributes to redundancy in both technology investments and human resources.
All of these should make us ask this important question: What do we do about it?
The first step is to converge your IT and OT people. Make them sit together, eat with each other, and go to happy hour together. It sounds straightforward because it is. There shouldn't be any daylight between these teams. Their respective networks are colliding into one network and the organizational structure must mirror this change, which may take some forcing.
Yes, IT and OT folks are different breeds, but at the end of the day, they're more likely than not to unite around common interests — especially when they all share a common boss. As a side benefit, converging IT and OT teams will naturally break down the language barrier between the two groups.
Step two, a slightly more complicated stage, is to converge your IT and OT processes. Doing so will require an independent third-party to harmonize the different risk calculuses. This independent third party can be the enterprise SOC, acting as a fusion center of sorts for both IT and OT security. By assuming a technology-agnostic monitoring posture, the SOC can translate IT to OT and vice versa, applying universal standards to managing both IT and OT cyber-risk. Other processes will naturally flow from this example, be it vulnerability management, change and configuration management, or incident response.
These steps are a simple starting point, with much more to consider as both technologies converge and grow. But the outcome for doing nothing — leaving OT to outpace IT — will likely push your organization's overall security risk into prohibitive levels.
Check out The Edge, Dark Reading's new section for features, threat data, and in-depth perspectives. Today's top story: "Is Voting by Mobile App a Better Security Option or Just 'A Bad Idea'?"