Over the past several years, the term “integration” has emerged as a buzzword that has simultaneously caused much fanfare for vendors within the operational technology (OT) world and much consternation and heartburn for those who actually work within the OT space. How can such a disconnect exist?
The core reason for concern stems from a tenet of OT security called isolation. Isolation ensures the safety and reliability of OT environments and is one of the primary ways that OT differs from information security (IT) systems, which almost by their very nature are connected and decidedly not isolated.
Integration, by contrast, means to blend into a functioning or unified whole. This definition lies in direct opposition to the concept of isolation, which means to set apart from others or to quarantine. Again, isolation has long been one of the core tenets of OT at both the physical and logical levels.
So, why all the fanfare and push to break isolation? Because in today’s world, data is king and the more data you can bring together in a real-time capacity, the more proactive you become at all levels of your business.
OT systems used to be air-gapped from IT environments for very good reasons, including protecting vulnerable legacy systems from cyberattacks. However, the push to connect these systems is also supported by good arguments about the benefits that such links can provide.
What is crucial to recognize is that the benefits of communication between IT and OT environments do not require a permanent integration. The fact that two people have different and valuable perspectives means that they should have a conversation, not a baby that combines all of their ideas into a single entity.
Regardless of its very real benefits, the integration of IT and OT environments creates equally real security concerns. This is a major reason why “interfacing” is a better approach than full-on integration. An interface is defined by Webster as “the place at which independent and often unrelated systems meet and act on or communicate with each other.” The key here is “independent and often unrelated systems.” Links between the IT and OT systems should exist, but they should be temporary and limited.
The energy space is a perfect example of IT/OT interfacing. Energy Management Systems (EMS), at a high level, can control how electricity is distributed across residential areas. These systems enable operators to control electric loads and effectively route power between stations. It is clearly critical that this system remain isolated, working within low-level OT boundaries. However, when outages occur, how are residential customers notified?
This is where an Outage Monitoring System (OMS) comes into play. An OMS can interface with an EMS in specific ways, including the ability to determine whether or not an outage exists in a particular region. With an OMS, energy customers have the ability to access the data that they need without running the risk that they will take over the power grid.
Effective and secure IT/OT interfacing is predicated on the ability to monitor and restrict the communication between the two environments. Balancing security and performance needs requires zero-trust access controls for the IT/OT interface.
Cyolo provides zero-trust access controls with a deep understanding of OT environments and their unique availability and security requirements. Based on user and asset identities, Cyolo calculates a risk score for each request, allowing low-risk requests to continue unimpeded while blocking suspicious and risky requests.
Learn more about building a secure interface between your organization’s IT and OT environments by scheduling a free 1:1 demo.
Josh Martin is a security professional who told himself he'd never work in security. With close to 5 years in the tech industry across Support, Product Marketing, Sales Enablement, and Sales Engineering, Josh has a unique perspective into how technical challenges can impact larger business goals and how to craft unique solutions to solve real world problems. Josh joined Cyolo in 2021 and prior worked at Zscaler, Duo Security, and Cisco.
Outside of Cyolo, Josh spends his time outdoors - hiking, camping, kayaking, or whatever new hobby he's trying out for the week. Or, you can find him tirelessly automating things that do NOT need to be automated in his home at the expense of his partner. Josh lives in North Carolina, USA.