6 Important Steps Every CIO Must Take to Protect Their Operational Technology Systems

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As a business, you don’t want your operations to get disrupted. That is why it is important to keep your operation technology system up and running.

Operational technology is an amalgamation of software and hardware used for managing industrial control systems, which lays the groundwork for building your important business infrastructure. 

One of the main differences between operational technology systems and information technology systems is processes and systems.

Even though both OT and IT have been managed separately since their inception, talks of convergence are also gaining momentum. 

Unfortunately, there are certain challenges that need to be overcome to make it fuse OT with IT. Some of them are as follows:

  • Higher risk of a cybersecurity attack
  • Lack of Visibility
  • Rapid change
  • Slow digital transformation

According to statistics, 78% of organizations have partial visibility into operational technology. 74% of operational technology organizations have experienced a data breach in the last 12 months. Lastly, 64% of operations leaders are struggling to keep pace with change when it comes to cybersecurity. How can you keep your operational technology systems safe in such a situation? That is exactly what we will try to answer in this article. 

In this article, you will learn about six important steps every CIO should take to protect their operational technology systems.

6 Steps To Protect Your Operational Technology System

These are the six steps you need to take to keep your operational technology systems safe.

Asset Inventory Management

The first step CIOs should take is to discover and identify all the elements that make up their operational technology systems. Create an inventory so you can keep track of all the elements. This will give you a clear picture of what you are protecting and what you are leaving exposed. If you buy dedicated server, it could be stored there or it could be stored on your data center or database.. Without an asset inventory, you don’t stand a chance against cybersecurity attacks that are targeting your operational technology systems.

Software Vulnerability Analysis

Once you have completed your inventory analysis and identified your assets, you might have also come across some software that plays an important role in your operational technology system. Pass every software through your vulnerability analysis. Keep an eye on the version of software you are using. If you are using an older version, make sure you update it to the latest version as an older version of the software has software vulnerabilities that can easily be exploited by hackers.

Patching

While we are on the topic of software let’s talk about an important aspect called patching. CIOs must ask themselves whether their software needs patching or not? This is important because patching operational technology software can make things even worse in some cases. Another important question is which systems they should apply software patching on as some systems have been around for a couple of decades. These legacy systems cannot be patched or taken down. 

In some cases, these older legacy operational technology systems don’t have the hardware resources such as CPU, memory or bandwidth to implement the process smoothly so it is better to avoid patching such systems as it can create even more issues. Similarly, operational technology systems use a combination of hardware and software that works well in tandem so if you try to patch the software, the hardware might malfunction or deliver weird results. Follow the threat analysis approach as it can not only help you identify loopholes but also enable you to reduce the risk before starting the patching process.

Backup and Restore

If you don’t want your operational technology system to become inaccessible due to a ransomware attack, you must take a backup of your operational technology data. This will help you to restore your data from a backup even if your systems are targeted with a ransomware attack. You can also use free anti-ransomware tools to protect your business.

Yes, taking backup of all your data and restoring it can be challenging but it is critical if you want to keep your operational technology systems safe. Operational technology network backups are only effective when you have an effective test restore process in place as it can play an important role in protecting your network from data loss. 

Backup and restore is a continuous process. This means that you have to ensure that your backups are up to date and optimal. You can not just take backup once and forget it. If you don’t know which data is most important and needs to be backed up, you can create a survey and poll asking employees to vote on data that is important for their work. This will tell what data you should back up and which ones to avoid.

Test Your Backup and Restore

As mentioned before, taking a backup of your data is an ongoing process. This means that you should continuously take backup of your data with servers in spain, test it and restore it especially when something in your operational technology system changes or updates. Create a test restore process that sets the frequency and mode of testing. You might also come across compatibility issues between operating systems and different versions of software being used or the structure of the database. You might have to run this process multiple times to get over these issues.

Implement Centralized Logging

As a CIO, your focus should not be on answering “how” questions, but it should be on answering “why” questions. For instance, your emphasis should not be on how something is not working or failing but on why something is working or not. With centralized logging, you can easily consolidate, efficiently manage and deeply analyze logs. This will help your information security team in developing a better understanding of their environment, identify threats and enhance your cybersecurity to combat those threats. Additionally, it will help CIOs in sniffing out dangerous cybersecurity signals despite all the noise.

How do you protect your business operation technology system? Let us know in the comments section below.

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