Fortinet uncovers critical operational technology security challenges

93 per cent of OT organisations experienced an intrusion in past 12 Months.

Reuters file photo
Reuters file photo

A Staff Reporter

Published: Wed 6 Jul 2022, 12:30 AM

Last updated: Wed 6 Jul 2022, 12:33 AM

Fortinet, a global leader in broad, integrated, and automated cybersecurity solutions, released its global 2022 State of Operational Technology and Cybersecurity Report. While industrial control environments continue to be a target for cyber criminals — with 93 per cent of Operational Technology (OT) organisations experiencing an intrusion in the past 12 months — the report uncovered widespread gaps in industrial security and indicated opportunities for improvements.

John Maddison, EVP of Products and CMO at Fortinet said: “This year’s global State of OT and Cybersecurity Report demonstrates that while OT security has the attention of organisational leaders, critical security gaps remain. PLCs designed without security, continued intrusions, a lack of centralised visibility across OT activities, and growing connectivity to OT are some of the critical challenges these organisations need to address. Security converged into the OT networking infrastructure, including switches and access points and firewalls, is essential to segment the environment. This combined with a platform that spans OT, converged OT/IT and IT provides end-to-end visibility and control.”

This year’s State of Operational Technology and Cybersecurity Report is based on a survey of more than 500 global OT professionals conducted in March 2022. The survey targeted people holding leadership positions responsible for OT and OT security, from managers to C-level executives. Respondents represent a range of industries that are heavy users of OT, including manufacturing, transportation and logistics, and healthcare

Key findings of the report include:

• OT activities lack centralised visibility, increasing security risks. The Fortinet report found that only 13 per cent of respondents have achieved centralized visibility of all OT activities. Additionally, only 52 per cent of organisations are able to track all OT activities from the security operations center (SOC). At the same time, 97 per cent of global organisations consider OT a moderate or significant factor in their overall security risk. The report findings indicate that the lack of centralised visibility contributes to organisations’ OT security risks and weakened security posture.

•OT security intrusions significantly impact organisations’ productivity and their bottom line. The Fortinet report found that 93 per cent of OT organisations experienced at least one intrusion in the past 12 months and 78 per cent had more than three intrusions. As a result of these intrusions, nearly 50 per cent of organisations suffered an operation outage that affected productivity with 90 per cent of intrusions requiring hours or longer to restore service. Additionally, one-third of respondents saw revenue, data loss, compliance and brand-value impacted as a result of security intrusions.

•Ownership of OT security is not consistent across organisations. According to the Fortinet report, OT security management falls within a range of primarily director or manager roles, ranging from the Director of Plant Operations to Manager of Manufacturing Operations. Only 15 per cent of survey respondents say that the CISO holds the responsibility for OT security at their organization.

•OT security is gradually improving, but security gaps still exist in many organisations. When asked about the maturity of their organization’s OT security posture, only 21 per cent of organisations have reached level 4, which includes leveraging orchestration and management. Notably, a larger proportion of Latin America and APAC respondents have reached level 4 compared to other regions. More than 70 per cent of organisations are in the middle levels toward having a mature OT security posture. At the same time, organisations face challenges with using multiple OT security tools, further creating gaps in their security posture. The report found that a vast majority of organisations use between two and eight different vendors for their industrial devices and have between 100 and 10,000 devices in operation, adding complexity.

OT Security is a Corporate-Level Concern

As OT systems increasingly become targets for cyber criminals, C-level leaders recognize the importance of securing these environments to mitigate risks to their organisations. Industrial systems have become a significant risk factor since these environments were traditionally air-gapped from IT and corporate networks, but now these two infrastructures are becoming universally integrated. With industrial systems now being connected to the internet and more accessible from anywhere, organisations’ attack surface is increasing significantly.

With the IT threat landscape becoming more sophisticated, connected OT systems have also become vulnerable to these growing threats. This combination of factors is moving industrial security upward in many organisations’ risk portfolio. OT security is a growing concern for executive leaders, increasing the need for organisations to move toward full protection of their industrial control system (ICS) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems.

Best Practices to Overcome OT Security Challenges

Fortinet’s global 2022 State of Operational Technology and Cybersecurity Report indicated ways organisations can address OT systems’ vulnerabilities and strengthen their overall security posture. organisations can address their OT security challenges by:

•Establish Zero Trust Access to prevent breaches. With more industrial systems being connected to the network, Zero Trust Access solutions ensure that any user, device or applications without proper credentials and permissions are denied access to critical assets. To advance OT security efforts, Zero Trust Access solutions can further defend against both internal and external threats.

•Implementing solutions that provide centralized visibility of OT activities. Centralized, end-to-end visibility of all OT activities is key to ensuring organisations strengthen their security posture. According to Fortinet’s report, top-tier organisations – which make up the 6 per cent of respondents who reported no intrusions in the past year – were more than three times as likely to have achieved centralized visibility than their counterparts who suffered intrusions.

•Consolidating security tools and vendors to integrate across environments. To remove complexity and help achieve centralized visibility of all devices, organisations should look to integrate their OT and IT technology across a smaller number of vendors. By implementing integrated security solutions, organisations can reduce their attack surface and improve their security posture.

•Deploying network access control (NAC) technology. organisations that avoided intrusions in the past year were more likely to have role-based NAC in place, ensuring that only authorised individuals can access specific systems critical for securing digital assets. —

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