September 12, 2017

When OT meets IT – How to secure factories from hackers

Timo Ahomäki

Head of Portfolio Development, Tieto Security Services

Manufacturing is among the most targeted industries for cyber attacks. What makes manufacturing industry suddenly such a hotspot of risks?

At the root of the problem, we find various industrial control systems (ICS), often considered synonymous with SCADA, supervisory control and data acquisition systems. They are the heart and soul of modern factories.

Put together, all technology that is used to monitor and control factories can be generalized as another acronym: OT or operational technology.

Right now, we are living in an era of transformation. OT and IT, formerly very distinct entities, are becoming inseparable. This process is accelerating due to introduction of IoT solutions. Businesses need a constant feed of data from operational technology over to their ERPs and other systems to get concrete and timely data to drive the business. And IT is, of course, connected to the Internet.

The big problem here is that the designs of most ICSs originate from a time long before the era of the internet. Several widely used ICS components consist of very old technology, such as obsolete operating systems, which may include massive amounts of unpatched vulnerabilities. For a long time, this was not much of an issue, because ICSs used to be closed environments.

Now, as a consequence of ubiquitous Internet connectivity those old vulnerabilities jump out of their Pandora’s box and pose some very real risks. If you represent a company running factories, you should be aware of these risks, if you wish to avoid economic, physical or even human damage.

From a security point of view it’s rather obvious what happens when OT and IT are bridged together. It opens a path for intruders, all the way down to floor-level machinery. Often, it’s far from a direct path.

A typical attack could start by infecting something in the IT environment of the manufacturing company. Malware may, for example, enter through a spear phishing campaign targeted at specific maintenance engineers who have access to OT. From that vantage point, the attack may easily proceed to its actual target.

Many manufacturing companies still think that their factories are not interesting for hackers. This is a false presumption. Cyber criminals and even nation state attackers are very interested, indeed. Their intentions vary from halting the production to stealing intellectual property for a competitor, or to direct blackmailing.

When OT meets IT, cyber security should be top priority. Manufacturing industry has invaluable assets, and they must be protected.

Attend Tieto´s security webinars to find out more about the cyber risks in manufacturing industries and how to survive!

In Finnish: Miksi tietoturva on valmistavalle teollisuudelle kriittisen tärkeää? on October 3rd, 2017

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