The critical role of OT management in modern industry

Operational Technology (OT), the systems and devices that monitor and control physical processes, is crucial for modern industries like manufacturing and utilities.   

Managing these complex environments, also known as OT management or OT systems management (OTSM), is no easy task. OT management involves judicious use of actions to maximize the security, reliability, and productivity of OT systems.  Building these capabilities can greatly reduce risk and lower operational costs. Overseeing the entire lifecycle of OT systems, from implementation to ongoing maintenance and security, requires a deep understanding of the technology and its unique operational challenges. 

Effective OT management enhances operational efficiency and strengthens security against increasingly sophisticated, targeted cyber threats.

In this blog post, we'll explore five OT management best practices:

In addition, we’ll dive into how and why these best practices address the key challenges organizations face in maintaining efficiency and security in OT environments.  

Maintaining a comprehensive asset inventory 

An asset inventory is a comprehensive list of all hardware, software, and network components within an OT environment. This includes everything from sensors and controllers to servers and network devices. 

"Image titled '5 Essential OT Systems Management Best Practices' by Verve Industrial. The image features a list of five best practices for managing OT systems: Asset Inventory: A detailed, up-to-date list of all OT devices, software, and networks to understand vulnerabilities and prioritize security measures. Patch Management: Regularly updating software and firmware patches to fix security flaws and improve system performance, recommending automation for efficiency. Application Allowlisting: Only allowing pre-approved applications to run on OT systems to reduce the risk of malware and unauthorized access. Backup and Recovery: Creating regular backups of OT data and systems to ensure rapid recovery from cyberattacks, disasters, or system failures. Network Segmentation: Dividing the network into smaller segments to isolate critical assets and prevent threats from spreading. The background shows a person in safety gear, emphasizing the industrial context. The Verve Industrial logo is at the bottom of the image."

Why a comprehensive asset inventory is important 

A thorough asset inventory is the foundation of effective OT management. It enables organizations to understand their entire attack surface, identify vulnerabilities, and prioritize security efforts. With Verve, you also get the detailed context you need into the assets – versions, user access, permissions, etc. Without this level of insight, we wouldn’t know where to start patching devices with vulnerabilities because we first need to understand which systems are most critical to operations or connected to critical devices. Without an accurate inventory, organizations are operating blindly, unaware of potential risks waiting for exploitation.  

How a comprehensive asset inventory improves efficiency and security 

Automating asset discovery and maintaining an up-to-date inventory allows organizations to quickly identify unauthorized devices and risks and respond to security incidents more effectively, making informed decisions about protecting their most critical assets. Centralizing all endpoint asset data into one view allows users to identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover, in a single platform. This proactive approach enhances security and reduces the risk of costly downtime and data breaches, improving overall efficiency. 

Watch on Demand:
Asset Inventory: The Foundation to an OT Security Program

Industrial organizations face increasing pressure to secure OT systems from cyberattacks and meet compliance requirements. This webinar teaches you how to build a strong OT cybersecurity program starting with a comprehensive asset inventory. Learn to overcome data collection challenges, measure risk reduction, and set up your organization for long-term success.

Performing regular OT patch management 

Patch management involves applying updates to software and firmware to fix vulnerabilities and improve performance. These updates are crucial for maintaining the integrity and security of OT systems. End of life and legacy systems are also common in OT, creating further challenges, as these are harder to manage and secure. An end-to-end patch management program maintains compliance and legislation in addition to enhancing risk management. With an overall assessment of system criticality to business operations, an organization has a clear picture of how to prioritize patch deployment. 

Why patching is important 

Unpatched vulnerabilities on OT systems are prime targets for attackers. Regular patching is essential to protect OT systems from exploitation, ensuring that all components are up-to-date and secure. An OT attack can impact any device (servers, workstations, HMIs), leading to severe disruptions in operations, halting production lines, compromising safety protocols, and causing significant financial losses. 

Since not all patches can be applied at once, it’s important to prioritize patches based on system criticality. This approach ensures that the most vital parts of the infrastructure are protected and minimizes the risk of operational disruption.  

How patching improves efficiency and security 

By automating the patching process, intelligent patch management solutions address vulnerabilities promptly, minimizing the risk of exploitations and ensuring system integrity. This is particularly important in OT environments where resources may be limited.  

These solutions offer a centralized approach to patch analysis and coordination, providing a comprehensive view of the entire OT environment. However, they allow for localized execution of patching, so that updates are tailored to the specific needs of each system. This “Think Global, Act Local” approach ensures that patches are applied safely and efficiently.  

By streamlining the patch management process, these efforts reduce manual labor and allow teams to refocus on other tasks quickly, improving operational efficiency while strengthening overall security. 

OT Patch Management: A Step-by-Step Guide

Learn more about our proven end-to-end solution for simplified patching.

Read the Blog

Enforcing application allowlisting 

Application allowlisting is a security measure that allows only pre-approved applications to run on a system. It acts as a barrier against unauthorized or malicious software. Allowlisting extends to USBs, removable media, and transient devices, especially in an “air-gapped” or heavily controlled network. 

Why allowlisting is important 

By preventing unauthorized or malicious software from taking hold, allowlisting significantly reduces the risk of malware infections and other security incidents.  

How allowlisting improves efficiency and security 

Enforcing strict allowlisting policies reduces the attack surface and prevents unauthorized changes to your systems. This improves system stability and minimizes the need for reactive security measures, enhancing overall operational efficiency. 

Using reliable backup and recovery solutions

Backup and recovery solutions involve creating copies of data and systems to enable restoration in the event of data loss, corruption, or system failure. Ensuring replication in an offline repository is key to limiting the effectiveness of a malware attack.

Why a backup and recovery solution is important

OT systems are vulnerable to various threats, including cyberattacks, natural disasters, and human error. Reliable backups provide a safety net, ensuring that organizations quickly recover and continue operations with minimal disruption.

How a backup and recovery solution improves efficiency and security

Automated backup solutions with efficient recovery processes enable organizations to restore systems and data quickly, minimizing disruptions and ensuring operational continuity. In IT environments, backup and restore processes are generally straightforward, aiming to ensure that data is recovered, and systems are brought back online.

However, in OT environments, these processes must also account for relays, network configurations, and the unique requirements of critical operational systems. This ensures that security and functionality remain consistent in case of device failure. Verve’s solution for backup and recovery addresses these specific needs, providing rapid recovery to maintain operational continuity.

Implementing OT network segmentation 

Network segmentation is the practice of dividing a network into smaller, isolated segments, placing barriers between IT and OT networks (or even within segments of IT and/or OT), to limit the spread of threats and protect critical assets. 

OT Network Segmentation: A Step-by-Step Guide

Learn what OT network segmentation is, its advantages and hurdles, and Verve’s 5-step method for effective implementation.

Read the Whitepaper

Why network segmentation is important 

In OT environments, a single compromised device can impact the entire network if affected. Network segmentation contains threats, preventing them from spreading between systems and causing widespread damage. It has technical challenges, but is a foundational element of OT security management.  

Due to its complexity, legacy equipment issues, need for physical cabling, and more, network segmentation is not always easy, and may require a team with intricate knowledge of networking and the OT systems.  

How network segmentation improves efficiency and security 

By isolating critical assets and reducing the attack surface, network segmentation simplifies security management and enables more targeted security measures. This approach enhances overall network security and reduces the risk of widespread incidents, improving both security and operational efficiency. 

Sustaining a Secure OT Environment Requires Vigilance and Adaptation

Effective OT management best practices include maintaining a comprehensive asset inventory, performing regular patch management, enforcing application allowlisting, utilizing reliable backup and recovery solutions, and implementing network segmentation. These strategies collectively improve operational efficiency, reduce the risk of cyber threats, and enhance system recovery capabilities. 

Implementation of security practices requires continuous monitoring, and improvements are essential for maintaining optimal OT management. For true OT cybersecurity maturity, the biggest measure of success is in the maintenance and monitoring of initial efforts.  

Because of the unique challenges in OT, effective systems management requires OT-safe approaches led by experienced OT security professionals. Organizations must remain vigilant and adaptable, adopting these best practices to safeguard their OT environments and ensure sustained operational success.