What is Cybersecurity for Operational Technology?
Operational technology (OT) encompasses a broad range of programmable systems or devices that interact with physical environment (or manage devices that interact with the physical environment.)1 These systems and devices detect or cause a direct change through the monitoring and/or control of devices, processes, and events. Examples of OT include industrial control systems (ICS), building automation systems, transportation systems, physical access control systems, physical environment monitoring systems, and physical environment measurement systems.
The components of OT include:
Industrial control systems. ICS refers to systems that manage and operate infrastructure-supporting functions like water, power, transportation, manufacturing, and other critical services. With the increased digitization, nearly all aspects of commercial and public businesses depend on software, computers, endpoints, and networks, all of which have to be secured for the safety of the system, the people operating it, and those it serves.
SCADA. Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) is a category of software applications for controlling industrial processes, which is the gathering of data in real time from remote locations in order to control equipment and conditions.
DCS. Distributed Control System (DCS) is a type of process control system that connects controllers, sensors, operator terminals and actuators. The data acquisition and control functions are performed by distributed processors situated near the peripheral devices or instruments from which data is being gathered. While DCS and SCADA are functionally very similar, DCS is generally employed at large, continuous processing facilities. Operations are almost always controlled onsite rather than remotely.
Industrial IoT. Industrial Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices are the smallest components of operational technology- a diverse array of sensors, monitors, actuators, and other technologies that are deployed on or near OT equipment. This equipment is pervasive and includes generators, pipelines, fans, programmable logic controllers (PLC), remote processing units (RPU), industrial robots, etc. These sensors are examples of IIOT.2
Gartner defines OT security as, “Practices and technologies used to (a) protect people, assets, and information, (b) monitor and/or control physical devices, processes, and events, and (c) initiate state changes to enterprise OT systems.”3 Cybersecurity for OT is becoming increasingly important as cyberattackers are recognizing the security limitations of OT and are increasing their attacks on it. NIST provides guidance for improving the security of OT systems through their Guide to Operational Technology Security, Cybersecurity Framework, and NIST Risk Management Framework.
1 NIST, 2022, “Guide to Operational Technology (OT) Security: NIST Requests Comments on Draft SP 800-82r3”
2 Fortinet, 2022, “What is OT Security?”
3 Perkins, 2014, “Operational Technology Security – Focus on Securing Industrial Control and Automation Systems”