How Enterprises Can Guard Against Attacks on their OT Environments


Given the increasing OT security concerns and the expanding attack surface enterprises must deal with today, a new approach to vulnerability management is necessary.

Operational Technology (OT) vulnerabilities increased by 88% in 2022, almost double from 2020, according to Skybox Security’s “Vulnerability and Threat Trends Report 2022.” This is somewhat because researchers are now actively looking for OT vulnerabilities, but it also indicates that threat actors are attempting to leverage these mission-critical, sensitive assets for their own ends. How can businesses strengthen their security posture and protect themselves from persistent, sophisticated threats?

In an environment with diversified devices, distributed assets, and threat actors constantly developing their strike strategies, it is essential to protect the OT environment with special attention.  

Companies with OT Environments Underestimate Attack Risk

Security professionals have been warning about growing vulnerabilities endangering key infrastructure for years. These systems were formerly air-gapped or only linked to solitary internal networks, rendering them impenetrable to external threats.

Many OT systems today are interconnected with the internet and extensive IT networks. Due to the requirement for remote management because of the pandemic, most of this networking occurred more quickly and with little regard for security.

As hybrid workplaces become increasingly prevalent, more vulnerabilities emerge. Going remote often entails the additional worry of a larger network and attack surface, and as a result, it necessitates greater vigilance in safeguarding all potential points of attack.

Also Read: Social Engineering Attacks: Four Ways Enterprises Can Avert Them

Threat actors are stepping up their efforts to exploit vulnerabilities in one environment to access assets in the other as OT and IT networks continue to merge. Malware is being developed more and more to take advantage of OT and IT infrastructures. Many OT attacks start with an IT breach and then proceed laterally to access OT resources.

Threat actors can also access IT networks through OT systems, where they execute ransomware attacks, exfiltrate data, and engage in other exploits. IT teams must pay closer attention to OT assets.

Exposure Risk in IT and OT 

It’s challenging to scan many OT systems. As a result of their inability to look across their OT infrastructure, many security engineers feel helpless. Without shared visibility between IT and OT networks, everyone is left trying to prevent and anticipate cyber-attacks while operating in the dark.

To shed light on a new course of action, OT security stakeholders can use non-intrusive techniques for the discovery and remediation of OT vulnerabilities. Threat intelligence can be used with asset data from patch management repositories and configuration management database parsers to identify assets that cannot be scanned.

Minimize OT/IT Risk with Alternatives Other Than Patching

It’s crucial to keep in mind that exposed vulnerabilities are the main contributor to breaches if leaders want to execute a fully data-driven strategy for proactive cybersecurity. The “patch everything” approach is a huge waste of time because only a small portion of the assets are actually vulnerable to a cyber-attack. Security teams must look beyond patching and find more proactive, data-driven, and OT-focused approaches.

Following the identification and prioritization of exposed vulnerabilities, the next stage is to select the appropriate course of action for risk mitigation. Because OT environments cannot experience downtime, remediation options beyond patching are crucial.

Also Read: Top Four Cybersecurity Gaps Enterprises Must Address Right Away

Cybersecurity Is a Choice

Threat actors are developing more sophisticated attacks, and it is clear that their goal is to specifically target the operational flaws affecting the most widely used systems.

The cybersecurity industry’s recent incidents demonstrate that organizations cannot succeed with yesterday’s tools. Enterprises must choose to upgrade carefully. The price of inadequate defense is simply too great to sustain and recover from.

A new approach to vulnerability management is necessary because of the unprecedented number of new vulnerabilities, increased OT security concerns, and the constantly growing attack surface.

Businesses can shift the focus from firefighting to prevention with the help of these modern vulnerability management approaches. The time has come to move past haphazard, temporary remedies and toward complete risk scoring for continuous and targeted risk reduction.

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