Table of Contents

The OT Assessment Paradox: More Assessments, Less Commitment

In 2021, the SANS ICS/OT Cybersecurity Survey revealed a positive trend: 65% of organizations integrated operational technology (OT) security assessments into their cybersecurity programs. This figure rose to an encouraging 70% by 2023. However, a paradox emerged in 2023: despite the increase in assessments, commitment to continuous OT assessments dropped from 30% to 23%.

Why OT Assessments Are Stalling

In other words, while there’s increasing awareness of the importance of OT assessments in strengthening cybersecurity, keeping up with these assessments as recommended proves difficult for many organizations.

The root of the struggle is that OT environments are inherently complex—sprawling networks of varied devices and systems bound by rigid safety and operational protocols. This complexity results in a myriad of challenges, including:

  • Poor visibility of all assets
  • Complex networks and systems
  • Legacy devices
  • Need for customized tools and solutions
  • Resource intensive
  • Scarcity of expertise

Because of these challenges, OT security assessments often require a manual or qualitative approach, making them exceptionally time-consuming and resource-intensive. However, the challenges don’t end there.

Even when budgets and resources are allocated for ad-hoc OT security assessments, the output, a list of vulnerabilities and security gaps, often falls short of stakeholder expectations. In the face of mounting compliance and regulation pressure, stakeholders want the next steps — guidance on moving from identifying vulnerabilities to implementing effective, actionable strategies to improve and demonstrate security maturity.

A Path Forward: Efficient and Actionable OT Security

There is a clear and obvious need to improve how to evaluate OT security. In this blog, we’ll explore the challenges with OT security assessments and propose a more practical solution: an efficient, technology-enabled method that provides organizations with a clear-cut action plan to improve their security maturity.

Read the White Paper: Technology-Enabled Vulnerability Assessment

Discover how technology-enabled assessments prioritize security gaps and remediation, saving time and costs for industrial organizations.

What Are OT Security Assessments?

OT security assessments are thorough evaluations designed to find and fix security weaknesses in industrial control systems (ICS) and their networks. These assessments protect the safety and reliability of critical infrastructure – like factories, power plants, and water systems – from cyberattacks.

Key goals of OT security assessments:

  • Find vulnerabilities: Uncover weak points in your ICS where hackers could gain access or where security measures are insufficient.
  • Understand the risks: Determine how those vulnerabilities could harm your operations or your entire organization.
  • Provide solutions: Offer clear recommendations to fix the problems found, making your OT environment stronger.
  • Meet regulations: Ensure your OT systems comply with industry standards and regulations for operational safety and cybersecurity.

Why they matter: These assessments are vital for protecting critical infrastructure, preventing cyberattacks, and ensuring that industrial operations continue to run smoothly.

Key Components, Objectives, and Common Challenges 

Below, we outline the key components of OT security assessments and the challenges many organizations face when relying on OT security assessment methods that are more manual or qualitative.

1. Asset Identification

Asset identification is the foundation of OT security assessments. It means carefully documenting both physical and digital assets in the OT environment, such as devices, software, and network components. Understanding the entire OT landscape is crucial for finding potential vulnerabilities and exposure points. However, with more traditional, manual approaches, this phase comes with its challenges:

Learn Why Asset Inventory is the Foundation of Your Cybersecurity Program

2. Vulnerability Assessment

After cataloging assets, the next step involves pinpointing vulnerabilities that cyber threats could potentially exploit. This requires deploying automated tools alongside manual inspections to search for known vulnerabilities and comprehensively evaluate the security of each asset. It’s vital to differentiate between theoretical risks and those realistically exploitable in the Operational Technology (OT) environment. Nonetheless, this component is challenged by elements that hinder efficient vulnerability detection with common approaches to OT security assessments:

3. Risk Analysis

After identifying vulnerabilities, the next crucial step is to assess their potential impact on operations and safety through risk analysis. This involves evaluating the likelihood of exploitation and the potential consequences of an attack, ranging from operational disruptions to physical damage or safety incidents. The primary goal of risk analysis is to prioritize risks based on their severity and potential impact, allowing organizations to allocate resources effectively to address the most critical vulnerabilities first. However, this aspect of the security assessment process faces various challenges with manual methods:

Learn How to Uncover Hidden Threats in OT with Risk-Based Prioritization​

4. Remediation Strategy Development

After identifying and prioritizing risks, the next phase revolves around devising strategies to remediate these risks effectively. These remediation strategies can include patching vulnerabilities, introducing additional security controls, redesigning network architecture, or enhancing monitoring and response capabilities. The core objective during this phase is to reduce risk to an acceptable level while minimizing disruptions to operational processes. However, numerous factors typically present challenges for organizations using manual or qualitative security assessments striving to achieve this goal:

Verve’s 3-Phase Approach: Technology-Enabled OT Security Assessment 

With over 30 years of hands-on experience in OT environments, we deeply understand organizations’ challenges when using manual or qualitative approaches for security assessments. This extensive experience drove us to develop a more effective method, continuously refined over decades based on both client successes and setbacks.

Closed-Loop IT/OT Vulnerability Management

Learn how to go from one-time assessment to real-time management with Verve.

Our methodology, known as “technology-enabled,” integrates the latest advancements in the field, using automation, real-time analytics, and advanced threat intelligence to enhance the precision and effectiveness of security measures. This approach significantly improves traditional manual processes in several ways:

  • Speed: It accelerates the assessment process, allowing for rapid responses to potential threats.
  • Precision: Automation and real-time data increase the accuracy of identifying vulnerabilities and risks.
  • Real-time Insights: It provides immediate visibility into the security landscape, enabling timely interventions.
  • Adaptability: The approach can quickly adapt to changes in the threat landscape, ensuring continuous protection.
  • Error Reduction: Automation minimizes the risk of human errors often associated with manual assessments.

In the following sections, we’ll outline our technology-enabled methodology and explain how it improves each stage of the traditional OT security assessment process.

Summary of Verve's Technology-Enabled Approach
Phase 1
Interviews & Review Available Data
  • Interview key personnel
    regarding current policies,
    procedures, network design,
  • Walk-down plant environment
    (in-person or virtual/
  • Gather key data on network
    diagrams, asset inventory,
    procedures, access
    management, etc.
  • Evaluate available data and
    develop assessment of key
    gaps and issues
Phase 2
Technical Analysis of Network & Endpoint Risk
  • Deploy software to gather
    endpoint and network
    device information
  • Model penetration and
    incident risks
  • Assess risks across multiple
    threat vectors and
    compensating controls, if
  • Integrate technical endpoint
    and network findings with
    first phase gaps to create
    overall assessment
Phase 3
Development of Prioritized Roadmap
  • • Based on prioritized risks
    from the assessment,
    develop a roadmap of
  • Review roadmap with key
    leadership to understand
    timing and challenges of
    different initiatives
  • Develop balanced trade-off
    of security with cost and
    operational disruption
  • Develop a procedure to
    review progress and refine
    roadmap over time

Phase 1: In-depth Engagement and Data Review

We focus on laying a solid foundation in the early stages of our technology-driven OT security assessment. This involves thoroughly reviewing data and having targeted discussions with key personnel with insights into the organization’s operations. This phase is crucial because it helps us understand the organization’s operations, security practices, and technology.

Engaging Key Personnel

We begin by talking to key stakeholders in the organization. At the same time, we carefully look at current policies, procedures, and how the network is set up. These conversations are important because they give us insights into how the organization handles security for its operational technology. We find out things like how much responsibility is given to original equipment manufacturers (OEM) vendors, how the manufacturing systems are connected to the company’s IT systems and network, and what the on-site team can do regarding security tasks like patching and configuration management. This step helps us understand the unique aspects of operations and security straight from the people who deal with them daily.

Plant Walk-Downs

After our interviews, we go on comprehensive plant walk-downs, which can be done either in person or virtually. During these hands-on explorations, we directly examine the physical and network infrastructure, helping us see how policies and procedures are implemented. It also helps us spot any differences between what’s documented and what’s happening on the ground.

Data Collection and Analysis

While we’re doing interviews and walk-downs, we also start collecting data from all the relevant sites. This means we gather and review important documents and data repositories. We’re looking for things like network diagrams, lists of equipment, documented security rules, contact info for key people, and a rundown of the major systems and security tools in use (like backup systems and antivirus software). The goal is to assemble a complete dataset that shows us how the organization is running things from an operational and security standpoint.

This careful data collection is vital because it helps us measure how the organization’s security compares to established standards, like the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF). By looking at the documents and data we collect against these standards, we can see what security basics are already in place and find areas where more protection or policies are needed.

Kickstarting Governance and Standards Development

In Phase 1, we kickstart the development of governance models and standards, a process that continuously evolves throughout the assessment. At this early stage, we ensure that the assessment’s objectives align with the organization’s existing governance structures and daily practices. This approach ensures that the assessment’s results are theoretical, practical, and relevant. It lays the groundwork for a governance framework tailored to the organization’s unique context and requirements, including any specific exceptions at individual sites. This framework forms the basis for a security approach that aligns seamlessly with the organization’s specific OT requirements.

As Phase 1 concludes, we comprehensively understand how the organization manages security and operations. This insight comes from engaging with stakeholders and delving into documents and data. Armed with this understanding, we are well-prepared to effectively address the organization’s distinct challenges and opportunities as we progress with the assessment.

Watch On-Demand: Designing the Right OT Governance Structure & Approach

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Phase 2: Harnessing Technology for Comprehensive Vulnerability Assessment

In the second phase of our cybersecurity assessment approach, we use advanced technologies to evaluate vulnerabilities in the OT environment. It’s important to note that not all organizations will have the necessary tech or solutions in place. However, this investment is crucial for companies looking to continuously assess and enhance their OT security efforts.

While initial costs may be associated with implementing the required technology and solutions, it’s essential to recognize that this investment holds the potential for a significant long-term return on investment (ROI). These initial expenses can lead to reduced long-term costs, such as labor expenses, dependence on external consultants for future assessments, and mitigating the financial impact of security breaches. This proactive approach ensures a more secure and resilient OT environment while optimizing cost efficiency in the long run.

Advanced Assessment Technologies and Automated Risk Assessment

The key to success in this phase is choosing the right tech stack. The ideal solutions should cover not just the basics but also include advanced risk analysis capabilities, providing calculated and automated risk scoring:

  • Automated Asset Discovery: This feature ensures real-time identification and cataloging of OT assets, keeping the inventory up-to-date. It’s essential for a detailed risk assessment, allowing dynamic profiling of assets based on their importance and function, a critical aspect in generating precise risk scores.


  • Vulnerability Scanning and Risk Analysis: The selected technology should leverage advanced methods to detect threats and conduct in-depth risk analyses beyond simply accessing established vulnerability databases. This includes calculating risk scores considering each asset’s unique operational contexts, going beyond generic impact scores.


  • Integration with SIEM Systems: Integration with Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) systems plays a vital role in aggregating and analyzing security data. This integration enhances incident detection and facilitates comprehensive reporting. Insights derived from SIEM further fine-tune risk scoring, ensuring that assessments are accurate and actionable.
Learn More About Verve's Proprietary Calculated Approach to Cybersecurity Risk

Offering a more tailored and accurate assessment of cybersecurity threats in OT.

360-degree Risk Perspective and Operational Safety

One of the significant advantages of this technology-driven approach is its ability to provide a complete 360-degree view of the organization’s risk posture. Unlike traditional assessments, which may have limitations, this comprehensive perspective uncovers all potential vulnerabilities. It allows us to model various threat scenarios and their potential impacts on the OT environment.Our primary concern is ensuring operational safety and system reliability, so we carefully select technologies that won’t disrupt operations.

360degree risk assessment

Strategic Insights for Effective Remediation

As we conclude Phase 2, we bring together key findings, including rogue assets, high-risk applications, critical vulnerabilities, missing patches, and compliance discrepancies. Each issue is prioritized based on its severity and potential impact, providing clear guidance for targeted remediation efforts.

These insights from this phase lead to a prioritized action plan, which is invaluable forstrategic remediation planning. This focused approach ensures the efficient allocation of resources, significantly improving security posture with minimal resource expenditure.

Benefits of a Technology-Enabled Approach

Our technology-driven vulnerability assessment approach delivers a range of benefits:

  • Operational Safety: It ensures uninterrupted operations and can even enhance system reliability by identifying network or system functionality issues.
  • Comprehensive Risk Assessment: It offers a complete view of all potential threat vectors, allowing us to model various scenarios and deepen our understanding of risks.
  • Enterprise-Wide Visibility: We consolidate data into a central reporting console, providing risk visibility across all sites. This simplifies risk analysis and facilitates remediation planning.
  • Accelerated Security Enhancement: Our approach expedites the remediation process, using specific information about asset risks to transition from identification to action swiftly.
  • Continuous Monitoring and Assessment: We offer an ongoing, real-time view of the risk landscape, enabling dynamic updates as remediation actions are taken and new vulnerabilities emerge.

By integrating these advanced technologies and methodologies into our process, Phase 2 pinpoints vulnerabilities and ranks them to match an organization’s specific operational circumstances. This sets the stage for crafting a comprehensive cybersecurity roadmap in Phase 3, leading organizations through the intricacies of bolstering their OT security stance.

Phase 3: Development of a Prioritized Cybersecurity Roadmap

Following a thorough and tech-driven vulnerability assessment, Phase 3 takes a strategic approach by crafting a cybersecurity roadmap. During this phase, we convert the detailed insights from the risk assessments into actionable plans that align with an organization’s broader security strategy and business goals.

cybersecurity roadmap

Creating a Prioritized Action Plan

Central to this phase is developing a prioritized roadmap for remediation initiatives. This roadmap is based on risk scores and asset criticality analysis revealed in Phase 2. Risks and vulnerabilities are categorized by severity and potential impact on network architecture, endpoint security, policies & procedures, and access control systems.

Collaborating with Leadership

A crucial step in this phase involves presenting the proposed roadmap to key leadership figures. This collaborative effort ensures a shared understanding of various initiatives’ timing, resource requirements, and potential challenges. Gaining leadership buy-in is essential, as it influences the prioritization and allocation of resources for implementing the roadmap.

Balancing Security, Cost, and Operational Continuity

A primary objective in developing the cybersecurity roadmap is finding the right balance between enhancing security posture, managing costs, and minimizing operational disruption. This equilibrium is vital to ensure that security measures are sustainable and align with an organization’s operational capabilities and business objectives.

Monitoring Progress and Refining the Roadmap

Due to the ever-changing nature of security, it’s essential to establish procedures for regularly reviewing and refining the cybersecurity roadmap. Continuous monitoring of implementation progress and the evolving threat landscape informs necessary adjustments to the roadmap, ensuring an organization’s cybersecurity posture remains adaptable to new challenges over time.

Key Components of the Strategic Roadmap

The cybersecurity roadmap includes these critical elements based on the prioritized risks discovered during the assessment:

  • Network Architecture: Addressing important issues such as internet access from the ICS network, strengthening firewall rules, and improving network monitoring and management.
  • Endpoint Security: Mitigating high-risk vulnerabilities, including applying critical patches, updating outdated devices, and ensuring essential security configurations.
  • Policies & Procedures: Establishing clear policies and procedures for network connectivity, asset management, patch/change management, and account/password management.
  • Access Control: Strengthening access control measures by removing dormant accounts, improving password security, and securing remote access.

Developing a cybersecurity roadmap in Phase 3 represents the culmination of the assessment process. It provides a clear and actionable strategy for addressing identified risks. This customized set of initiatives, subject to continuous evaluation and refinement, is the basis for an organization’s ongoing commitment to enhancing its cybersecurity defenses. With an emphasis on prioritization, collaboration, and maintaining a strategic balance, this phase ensures that organizations are well-prepared to proactively strengthen their cybersecurity posture while aligning with their operational and business requirements.

Watch On-Demand: Recommendations for Building and Executing an OT Security Roadmap

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Case Study: Verve’s Approach in Action

Our approach to technology-enabled security assessments is not a future concept—it’s a current reality, delivering tangible outcomes for our clients. Our hands-on work has consistently proven that advanced technology is reshaping OT security assessments to make them more effective and efficient.

Case Study: Technology-Enabled Vulnerability Assessment in Chemicals Production

A global specialty chemicals producer faced a significant challenge: assessing cybersecurity risks across 60+ facilities worldwide, a typically expensive and slow process. The company needed a solution that was both thorough and cost-effective—without the disruption of traditional methods.

The Verve Security Center was deployed organization-wide by the client. With detailed analyses tailored to the specific needs of their OT environment, they now had comprehensive asset inventories and the ability to quickly assess and remediate risk while ensuring operational safety in all 60+ facilities.

Strategic Remediation with Immediate Results

Using Verve’s insights, the company quickly established a remediation plan, aligning with best practices and security frameworks. The result? An ambitious 18-24-month timeline was reduced to under nine months, with costs slashed. More than just speed and savings, the company began addressing risks immediately, significantly advancing its security maturity.

This case study clearly illustrates the effectiveness of Verve Industrial’s technology-enabled approach. The results illustrate the benefits—a substantial reduction in assessment time and expenses and immediate strides towards a more robust security stance. 

Today, this is the reality for Verve’s clients: impactful, streamlined, and proactive security assessments that drive toward demonstrable progress in their security maturity.

Bar chart displaying OT security maturity improvement using NIST framework. The chart shows initial scores (blue bars) and improvement (orange bars) across five categories: Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, Recover. Categories like Risk Assessment, Access Control, and Anomalies & Events show approximately a 2x improvement post-implementation of Verve Industrial's methodologies. The chart illustrates significant enhancements in all areas, with the Protect and Detect categories seeing the most substantial improvements.

Verve impact on sample client improvement in security maturity.

Paving the Way for Future-Ready OT Security

OT security requires a strategic and adaptable approach to combat evolving threats effectively. While integrating OT security assessments into existing cybersecurity frameworks is a step in the right direction, doing them continuously remains challenging for many organizations.

A technology-driven approach emerges as the most efficient and advantageous solution, offering several undeniable benefits:

  • Enhanced Efficiency: Automation and analytics expedite assessments, enabling swift vulnerability detection and prioritized actions.


  • Improved Accuracy: AI-driven processes reduce false alarms, focusing efforts on genuine threats and elevating the precision of risk assessments.


  • Real-Time Insights: Cutting-edge technology allows for flexible risk analysis that adapts to emerging threats, ensuring up-to-date prioritization.


  • Resource Optimization: Intelligent, technology-driven strategies align remediation efforts with operational needs, optimizing resource utilization.


  • Comprehensive Visibility: Centralized reporting provides a holistic view of organizational risks, streamlining remediation planning through simplified risk analysis.


  • Continuous Monitoring: Ongoing, automated monitoring maintains security alignment with the evolving cybersecurity landscape, preserving defense integrity over time.


Adopting a technology-enabled approach to OT security assessments transforms organizations from a reactive security stance to a proactive one, where they don’t just remediate risks but stay ahead of them. This approach provides a clear roadmap for navigating today’s complex cybersecurity landscape and reinforces operational resilience. It ensures that organizations consistently conduct comprehensive and up-to-date OT security assessments, keeping them well-prepared to confront the rapidly evolving digital threat landscape.

Efficiency, Precision, and Ongoing Protection with Verve's Technology-Enabled OT Security Assessments

Transform your OT security assessments from a costly, manual effort into a proactive, efficient solution with Verve Industrial's technology-enabled approach. Get the insights and protection you need.
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