5 Trends Shaping the Future of OT Cybersecurity

Stay ahead of evolving OT threats. Discover the top 5 OT security trends and learn essential strategies to safeguard your critical systems.

Automation is revolutionizing industries, and the lines between IT (Information Technology) and OT (Operational Technology) are blurring. This progress, however, comes with a hidden cost: a growing vulnerability to cyberattacks. 

Cybercriminals are taking advantage of trends like remote work, the explosion of IoT (Internet of Things) devices, and the shift to cloud-based solutions to infiltrate critical systems. The growing number of potential entry points makes organizations more vulnerable than ever. 

This blog post is your roadmap to navigating this evolving landscape. We’ll break down the top OT security trends in 2024 and beyond. We’ll also provide practical strategies and essential knowledge to strengthen defenses and stay ahead of the latest threats. 

Trend #1: Remote Work Expands the OT Attack Surface 

The shift to working from home has changed the game for cybersecurity, especially for OT. With the line between OT and IT blurring, an employee connecting their work laptop to an unsecured WiFi network at Starbucks can have monumental security implications for OT. 

The rapid escalation of COVID-19 required many companies to quickly accommodate a remote workforce – often at the expense of security. However, with remote and hybrid work models becoming the norm, companies should go back and ensure they have the proper controls and monitoring to prevent threat actors from piggybacking on employee access into the company network. 

A few countermeasures to security to enable remote work are: 

  • Implementing Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) to add a security layer beyond passwords. 
  • Enabling endpoint protection such as Antivirus on all employee laptops. 
  • Utilizing Secure Remote Access to provide a controlled gateway for remote access. 
Prepare for the Future: 5 OT Security Trends to Watch. Text boxes display the following trends: Remote Work, IIoT, Cloud Computing, AI, and Sophisticated Attacks.

Trend #2: IIoT: A Double-Edged Sword for Industrial Security

As the cost of sensors declines and access to high-speed internet and the demand for data-driven insights increases, the number of connected devices in manufacturing is projected to skyrocket, reaching 30.9 billion by 2025. 

While IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) brings benefits like real-time data collection and optimized operations, scaling the number of connected devices in an OT environment comes with challenges. First, every “smart” and connected device on the network is a potential entry point for attackers. Second, overloading networks with a surge in connected devices can lead to disruptions and downtime. 

To mitigate these risks, organizations should: 

  • Regularly assess network capacity to handle the growing number of devices. 
  • Develop an Asset Management strategy to identify and manage all connected assets, including those previously thought to be offline. 
  • Implement vulnerability and risk management to identify, prioritize, and reduce your risks.
Infographic with the title ‘OT Security Trends 2024: 5 Risks Shaping the Future’. The graphic displays five sections, each representing a cybersecurity trend. Icons depict remote work, industrial internet of things (IIoT), cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), and cyberattacks. Text boxes provide summaries of each trend.

Trend #3: Embracing the Power of Cloud While Managing the Risks 

A shift toward cloud-based OT management is already underway. Forrester recently reported that 67% of organizations already use cloud-based applications and services to manage their OT systems. That number is projected to reach 81% by 2025.  

Driving this trend are several benefits when compared to on-premises solutions: 

  • Reduced maintenance: Automatic patching and updates eliminate manual IT work. 
  • Scalability: Cloud infrastructure scales quickly to meet changing needs. 
  • Cost savings: Lower hardware, software, and data center costs. 

However, moving data to the cloud is not without risks. Choosing cloud providers with strong data management policies and secure environments can mitigate these risks. Additionally, organizations should prioritize secure data transmission methods like proxy servers and ensure that only anonymized, non-sensitive data reaches the cloud. 

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Trend #4: AI for OT: Balancing Power with Data Integrity 

Artificial intelligence’s (AI) ability to analyze vast amounts of data, learn from patterns, and automate tasks has immense potential to revolutionize threat detection and prevention. It’s poised to be a digital sidekick for cybersecurity teams, identifying and responding to threats in real time, getting smarter each time. 

But, with that great potential comes potential risks. If the information AI receives during training or inference is flawed or contaminated, it can cause AI to make incorrect or harmful decisions.  

To avoid this, organizations should consider AI vendors that: 

  • Guarantee clean, secure data for training models. 
  • Use statistical methods to find inconsistencies in data. 
  • Enforce strict controls to prevent data manipulation. 
  • Monitor AI models to identify and address biases. 

Trend #5: Sophisticated Attacks and Data Overload 

Thanks to the expanding threat landscape and the explosion of AI, today’s cyber-attacks are more sophisticated than ever. Often part of large, organized groups, cybercriminals are using multi-layered strategies, combining techniques like phishing, physical access, and social engineering, to hammer away companies’ defenses. 

The growing number of connected industrial devices adds complexity, resulting in hundreds of thousands of vulnerabilities and alerts that security teams must sift through. With tactics constantly shifting and the volume of data growing, spotting a genuine attack is more challenging than ever.  

In this evolving landscape, more than basic defenses are needed. To stay ahead of today’s attacks, companies need a security strategy that is as agile and changing as the tactics they need to defend against. 

Beyond Trends: Embracing a Proactive Strategy 

Simply reacting to the latest trends will not be enough to keep organizations safe in the ever-expanding threat landscape. The best approach organizations can take is to develop a long-term security strategy built on a solid foundation that is resilient, proactive, and ready for anything. 

Here are four practical steps you can take to start that journey: 

Step 1: Implement a Security Framework

Select an established security framework, like NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) (National Institute of Standards and Technology), and outline a structured approach to identifying threats, implementing safeguards, and responding to incidents.  

Step 2: Build a Strategy

Using your chosen security framework as a roadmap, develop a long-term strategy based on your organization’s unique requirements.  

Step 3: Monitor and Improve Security Posture

Monitor your network and conduct regular security audits, penetration testing, and vulnerability assessments to find and address gaps in your security posture continuously. 

Step 4: Educate Your Teams

Regularly conduct employee training on attack methods, security risks associated with remote work, and how to report and respond to potential attacks. 

For a deeper dive into building a proactive OT security strategy, read our guide:

Building an OT Systems Management Program

The cybersecurity landscape for operational technology environments is rapidly evolving, driven by trends like remote work, IoT proliferation, cloud adoption, and increasingly sophisticated attacks. Keeping up with these changes and mitigating the associated risks requires a proactive and comprehensive approach to security. 

By implementing an established security framework, developing a long-term strategy tailored to your organization’s needs, continuously monitoring and improving your security posture, and prioritizing employee education, you can build a resilient cybersecurity foundation capable of withstanding modern threats. 

Remember, cybersecurity is an ongoing journey, not a destination. Staying vigilant, adapting to the latest trends, and fostering a culture of security awareness are crucial to protecting your critical OT systems and data assets. Embrace these best practices, and you will be well-equipped to navigate the ever-evolving cybersecurity landscape with confidence.  

The time to fortify your OT defenses is now. By acting proactively and making cybersecurity a top priority, you can safeguard your operations, minimize disruptions, and drive your business forward with peace of mind. 

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