21 Apr 2021

Contemporary Cyber Security and CNI: Converging IT and OT Cyber Security

Guest blog: Raj Badiani – Head of Digital at Raytheon UK as part of our #Cyber2021 week.

Digital transformation, accelerated cloud adoption, the rate of technological change and the subsequent expanded threat surface continue to cause organisations in critical sectors to rethink how they manage an equally evolving cyber risk to protect assets and data.

Advancements in digital technology offer organisations unprecedented levels of dynamism, agility and efficiencies, with other benefits including cost optimisation, reliability, speed and scalability. The spectre of widely dispersed, inter-connected networks and the Internet of Things, however, pose new challenges for security teams who now need to protect data perceived as residing in environments they do not necessarily control. As organisations adopt new ways of working, with some transitioning from legacy IT practices and infrastructure, so too must they adopt innovative and proactive cyber security strategies.  “Out of the box” security controls and technology, underpinned by “check box” compliance frameworks, are no longer sufficient, placing businesses and organisations at significant risk of compromise from a cyber-attack.

This is especially concerning for critical sectors like the nuclear sector, as the consequences of compromise through a cyber-attack are potentially catastrophic. The prospect of losing control of a nuclear facility to a threat actor, large scale power outages, or a compromise resulting in the loss or degradation of Safety, Security & Emergency Preparedness (SSEP) functions is daunting. Unlike a commercial entity that fears financial loss or reputational damage, an attack on the UK’s critical national infrastructure can have far reaching impact on public health and safety.

Inevitable complexity is introduced in these sectors as owners and operators of Operational Technology (OT) embrace internet connected capabilities to deliver real-time, scalable practice. Legacy Industrial Control Systems (ICS) and networks are connected with internet facing devices in a converged environment. Industrial IT functions, traditionally performing electronic or manual operations, become more dependent on data driven capabilities leveraging advanced analytics and automation. In turn this facilitates more efficient, optimised processes to better inform decision making, however exposes these sectors to more frequent cyber-attacks. As well as traditional industrial sabotage motives, it offers a potentially easier route to exploit a now expanded network and fused digital environment through less well protected ICS/OT systems.

Cyber resilience is therefore a growing concern for critical national infrastructure operators. Until recently, industrial control systems and operational technology devices were deployed in isolation and largely disconnected. Little consideration was given to ensuring coherence with security controls applied to IT systems. Closed off from traditional IT networks and infrastructure, there was no requirement for IT security teams to consider operational technology in their cyber defence strategies. However as more devices become IP enabled, an IT/OT network eco-system emerges with more than a blurring of boundaries from a cyber security perspective. Threats, vulnerabilities and associated risks must therefore be considered holistically, and operators should assess using industry standards such as ISO 27001.

The existing IT cyber security market in the UK is not yet sufficiently capturing OT/IoT requirements. Subsequently, OT cyber security maturity remains comparatively under-developed. There is a lack of integration, placing critical systems at significant risk as they become more interconnected. This is a key area that must be addressed in order to achieve an end-to-end IT/OT cyber security posture in critical sectors.

A proactive approach must recognise the convergence of IT and OT. Critical assets and data must be identified across both networks and correlated in a risk management plan. Security operations should provision for real-time monitoring and visibility across all IT/OT endpoints and network traffic, underpinned by security analytics and threat intelligence. Security teams can then apply consistent rules and configurations across all infrastructure and environments. Active defence and proactive monitoring combined with a common security posture across IT and OT will enable rapid detection, immediate response and early remediation, resulting in the minimisation of business impact and disruption of services regardless of whether the attack targets the IT or OT environment.

Operators of critical services must now consider both IT and OT systems and networks and not treat either in isolation when protecting against cyber vulnerabilities and risk. With the announcement of the UK government ‘s new independent body to oversee standards in the UK’s cybersecurity sector, this brings some hope to address the increasingly challenging task of securing digital technologies at nuclear facilities.

However, with a universal IT/OT cyber security strategy, organisations can reap the benefits of digital transformation, IoT and other next generation technologies and do so securely. With security at the forefront of new initiatives and “baked” in from the start, rather than being an afterthought, it can become a powerful enabler to assisting the sectors like nuclear to realise their digital vision. 

Dan Patefield

Dan Patefield

Programme Head, Cyber and National Security, techUK

Charlie Wyatt

Programme Assistant, techUK

Jill Broom

Programme Manager, Cyber Security & Central Government, techUK

Sam Wyatt

Sam Wyatt

Programme Manager, Defence and Cyber Security, techUK