IT Security

Cybersecurity in IT and OT: Building the right sandwich

21. July 2022, Avatar of Alexander SpatzigAlexander Spatzig

If you ever need to explain the complexities of IT and OT cybersecurity to non-technical managers or users, tell them that it’s as easy as creating made-to-order sandwiches for everyone in a large group of people. You just need two slices of bread – firewalls, anti-virus software and so forth -- and some fillings –regular patching, user education, etc. -- to put in between them. Sounds easy, right?

The point is, everybody gets – or thinks they get -- the idea of cybersecurity at one level or another. And though it seems simple enough in concept it gets very complicated very quickly when you consider key “sandwich-making” details: Which kind of bread – flat, pita, white, wheat, rye (sprouted and unsprouted), multi-grain, or gluten-free? How thickly sliced? Cold, hot, grilled, toasted, untoasted, open face? Any spreads like butter, mayo, mustard, oil, pesto or hummus? As for fillings, the sky’s the limit. Not only are the possibilities endless, they keep changing as tastes and available resources change.

So it is with IT and OT cybersecurity. Network, endpoint and software technologies continuously evolve, as does the level of connectivity within and between organizations and businesses across industries. Each one of those factors gives hackers another attack surface to exploit and IT/OT professionals more potential security vulnerabilities to manage.

Just as you can’t just get some bread and fillings to make sandwiches that will satisfy everyone, you can’t just install security software or hire cybersecurity specialists and assume your company’s protected. However, there are steps you can take to assess, manage and minimize risks to business and production networks that will meet requirements now and as they evolve over time.

No such thing as a free lunch

Just as it’s easy to go to a store and pick up a loaf of bread, the market does offer solutions and technologies to help implement IT and OT security measures, e.g., firewalls or antivirus software. However, such technologies are only the most basic pieces of a holistic security strategy. In fact, you’ll need the active input and cooperation of users and management to implement and maintain effective cybersecurity software, systems and processes.

When cybersecurity awareness is not promoted and shared, the steps that IT and OT managers take to protect the organization can become invisible or even compromised. Users might see it as a burden and management is more apt to regard it as a cost to be minimized. Instead, everyone in the company needs to see cybersecurity practices in very real and practical terms as an existential necessity, or even as opportunity to help ensure profitability, growth and customer/partner trust.

Building, sharing and expanding your cybersecurity “sandwich”

Effective cybersecurity relies on a shared understanding of the risks as well as the processes that IT and OT managers put in place. Building and maintaining that awareness is the responsibility of company management. That begins with asking how "fit" is the company in terms of security, and then continuously re-assessing current practices and evolving vulnerabilities.

For example, manufacturing companies can ensure that:

  • Remote access for third parties is carefully restricted or segmented
  • Questionnaires to obtain cyber-insurance are completed and audited
  • Recommended or mandated best practices for risk prevention and mitigation from industry groups or government agencies are fully implemented and regularly monitored for updates.

For all companies, developing and testing response, escalation and remediation processes is required, including:

  • An appropriate and effective organization emergency response system
  • Current backups of critical systems as well as practiced restoration procedures
  • Regular employee awareness training with both planned drills and unannounced tests
  • Clear and ongoing security support and communication from C-suite executives to employees
  • Engagement with external cybersecurity experts for plan preparation, implementation and testing, and for after-hours emergency support.

It’s also necessary to consider a full range of cybersecurity awareness and practices that go beyond “baloney and American cheese” security, i.e., just installing spam filter, anti-virus and firewall software on Windows computers. With a growing number and diversity of endpoints – and the reality of remote and hybrid users and devices – be sure to include the three main pillars of a cybersecurity strategy:

  1. IT Security: threats, requirements and protective measures are constantly changing so it’s important to keep abreast of new developments.
  2. OT Security: production facilities and supply chains are becoming increasingly digital and connected. That offers enormous potential for attackers, as awareness is nowhere near the level of office IT. Costs and damage to company operations can be catastrophic in an attack succeeds.
  3. IoT Security: Connected devices like coffee makers, kitchen appliances and lighting or HVAC automation products are becoming common both at company locations and at home and remote offices. Network transparency and management control is essential for reducing or preventing attacks or network intrusions.

Cybersecurity is an iterative process that requires constant improvement. Unified endpoint management (UEM) systems with extensive automation capabilities like the baramundi Management Suite (bMS) are indispensable for implementing and enhancing cybersecurity measures for both IT and OT networks.

Consider the bMS as the plate for serving your cybersecurity “sandwich.” It’s essential for efficient day-to-day endpoint provisioning and maintenance. But it’s also a powerful solution for automated patch deployment, Windows updates, network transparency, vulnerability scanning (including for industrial control systems), and even for security awareness communication to employees. Sysadmins can even get it “to go” with cloud-based system monitoring in the Argus Cockpit module.

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