Industrial companies understand their manufacturing or processing facilities are under threat from targeted and untargeted cyber attacks. While awareness grows, many struggle to protect their assets in a meaningful way.

The NIST Cyber Security Framework is one method for measuring maturity in cyber defense and protection. Over the past several years, Verve Industrial Protection has helped a range of companies significantly increase their maturity against the NIST standard by deploying the Verve Security Center on clients’ OT or Industrial Control Systems. Verve technology and talent enable a dramatic, rapid increase in maturity as well as provides a foundation on which to build future maturity increases.

This NIST CSF case study provides one example of a customer’s journey to greater security maturity with the Verve Security Center and VIP Services.

The Situation

An integrated energy company with a mix of heavily regulated and less regulated assets wanted to improve cyber security on the OT assets in its portfolio. The company successfully enhanced the security of its IT assets but did not feel that the frameworks and guidelines for the protection of information assets was applicable to the industrial control system assets.

The CEO and CFO demanded a way to measure the ROI of their investments in cyber security. It was not enough to say that tools were deployed or no intrusions were discovered or that any intrusion that was discovered was resolved in a certain window. They were seeking a maturity model that could provide a holistic and rigorous measurement system to track progress. The team knew they needed a robust “defense in depth” approach, so they started looking for a path and way to begin.

The first choice was to build off the NIST CSF standard to measure their current status and monitor progress against specific areas of cyber security. The NIST CSF provides a set of control guidelines more targeted at control systems, rather than pure information systems. The team established a set of guidelines as “profiles” or target states of maturity against each of the primary categories of the NIST framework as seen below.

As they began the process, the company had little data on current procedures and even less data on individual assets and networks. To get a read on their initial “baseline” profile, they conducted interviews and a quantitative survey of employees to assess the maturity level of their networks and procedures.

Several key findings emerged:

  1. The maturity scores were relatively low across the board as these systems had not been subject to the traditional cyber security advances that the information systems had.
  2. The scores were particularly low in asset management, protective technology and processes, detection of threats, and recovery.
  3. There were gaps in both process and technology.
  4. The organization needed better information on its assets and potential vulnerabilities to generate momentum for the program.

The company set an objective to see significant improvement across these dimensions within 18 months.

The Solution

The company evaluated multiple solutions to address the technology components of the maturity gaps. They set forth the following criteria:

  • OEM platform-independent
  • Scalable architecture across plants
  • Robust asset management across OS, networking, and embedded devices • Single interface across endpoints
  • Event logging, correlation, and storage
  • File integrity and configuration change monitoring
  • Endpoint protection: antivirus and application whitelisting
  • Patch management
  • Backup and restore management
  • Strong ICS-experienced support

After reviewing five to six vendors, the company selected the Verve Security Center (VSC), supported by VIP Services, to ensure the system was deployed, configured, and serviced appropriately.

VSC includes six critical elements, which are clearly aligned to the NIST components.

Verve Asset Manager (VAM): A proprietary OT-specific asset inventory solution that integrates data from OS devices using a safe and tested agent-based solution, networking devices using Verve’s network agentless solution, and all OT embedded devices (such as protective relays, controllers, etc.) using Verve’s proprietary agentless OT communication stack.

VAM includes a low-cost, scalable architecture leveraging proprietary software to reach remote locations efficiently. It enables auto-identification of new devices as they are added to the network.

Verve Patch and Vulnerability Manager: An OT-focused, closed-loop vulnerability and patching solution that allows for the safe discovery of vulnerabilities without the need for risky scanning of these sensitive OT networks. It integrates patch, configuration, account, software, and other remediation actions into the same platform.

Verve Endpoint Protection: Verve has deployed endpoint protection for over a decade on industrial control systems. This includes anti-virus and application whitelisting, as well as host intrusion detection. Verve leverages leading solutions, such as Symantec or McAfee for AV and custom-tuned CarbonBlack’s Bit9 whitelisting solution for the specific needs of different OEM vendor equipment.

Verve SIEM for log and Netflow management and correlation: Verve has dedicated significant investment to build a SIEM aggregation tool that parses data from OT devices, network behavior, asset behavior, DCS alarms, etc. to provide meaningful insights for the challenging embedded devices in a control system.

Verve Backup and Restore: Verve’s platform is open and integrates a range of backup solutions, but the most effective in an OT environment leverages the Avamar platform from Dell EMC to scale across networks and provide much lower bandwidth – which is critical in sensitive networks.

Verve Reporting and Analytics: One of the most critical features is the ability to aggregate the underlying elements into a single database and user interface to reduce the cost and labor burden on an already taxed cyber security team. The solution had an integration layer to simplify the monitoring and compliance reporting.

Verve Security Center leverages NoSQL database and a modern stack user interface to bring the information into a searchable and automated asset management system for full visibility and actionability.

Over the course of 18 months, the client saw significant improvements in its cyber security maturity as defined by the NIST CSF. After deploying Verve, the company reassessed its maturity against the same NIST CSF profiles as it had done in the beginning.

Overall, the company doubled its profile scores across all dimensions of NIST. The greatest increases were in the areas of technology such as asset inventory, protection technology, detecting technologies, and backup/restore.

Most importantly, the management team could clearly demonstrate the ROI of its cyber security investments with very specific metrics and measurements.

verve nist maturity

There is still work to be completed. The company is continuing to evolve and mature its security program as they fine-tune technology, install improved processes and training programs, and increase overall awareness.

Related Resources


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