A Comprehensive Guide to External Threat Safeguards for Operational Technology

January 8, 2024 • Travel Tales • Views: 275

Whether it’s an oil refinery, a power plant, or a water treatment system, industrial operations rely on specialized, connected technology to produce, move, heal, and clean. These operational technologies, often called OT systems, are vulnerable to cyberattacks and can result in severe financial losses and even loss of life.

External penetration testing, a type of security test conducted by ethical hackers, is one vital tool for identifying and prioritizing vulnerabilities for remediation.

Threat Detection

Adequate external threat safeguards for operational technology (OT) go beyond prevention; proactive threat detection is crucial. By continuously monitoring for signs of malicious activity and potential indicators of compromise (IOCs) that bypass preventative measures, robust threat detection capabilities can help prevent intrusions and minimize potential damage to your OT environment. For example, it can support detecting unauthorized entry to your network by looking for indicators of compromise that have evaded your preventative defenses.

A substantial threat detection program also helps identify attacker techniques and methods so that you can use them to prioritize alerts and take appropriate defensive actions. One helpful resource is the MITRE ATT&CK framework, an advanced and well-researched threat modeling knowledge base that describes attack techniques and provides recommended mitigations.

It’s also essential that your threat detection system has a clear escalation path to ensure that any suspicious activity is quickly escalated to the appropriate personnel for further analysis and response. This helps mitigate alert fatigue and speeds up the response time to help your OT security team respond in real-time to minimize damage and downtime to critical systems.

Network Access Control (NAC)

NAC allows organizations to monitor, authenticate, and authorize devices and users before they enter the network. This is particularly important as organizations continue to embrace remote working, BYOD policies, and third-party collaborations that expand the attack surface for cyber attackers.

NAC tools should offer real-time monitoring of endpoints to detect unauthorized access and potential vulnerabilities. They should also allow organizations to define and implement security configuration requirements, including up-to-date antivirus software, operating system patches, and firewall settings. They should also support network segmentation to limit east-west navigation by attackers and enable IT staff to quarantine or remediate non-compliant devices and users.

Specialized NAC tools may also offer security posture evaluations of IoT devices, such as building sensors and check-in kiosks, to determine whether they meet security requirements before allowing them onto the network. This can help prevent IoT devices from being compromised by malware or hackers seeking to steal sensitive data they can sell on the dark web.

Data Loss Prevention (DLP)

The frequency of significant data breaches and the value of stolen information have increased demand for DLP. This cybersecurity solution identifies and prevents sensitive data from leaving the isolated environment. It protects against malicious insiders and cyber criminals attempting to sell or use your information for identity theft, insurance fraud, and corporate espionage.

It can identify and protect data in motion, whether sent to an unauthorized external party or accidentally leaked by end-user misconfiguration or other threats like ransomware. It is best implemented in phases, as the most effective DLP implementations start at the human level with education and training sessions promoting information security awareness.

Modern DLP technologies employ data classification and machine learning algorithms to detect sensitive information. Typical categories include regulated and confidential information, personally identifiable information (PII), and business-critical intellectual property. The sensitivity of each category is determined by its context, which can change over time. This variability is why fixed rules and standard pre-packaged policies often need to be revised.

Network Intrusion Detection System (NIDS)

An IDS monitors host systems & network traffic, analyzing packets & detecting suspicious patterns. These systems use signature-based detection – comparing data against a database of known attack signatures – & anomaly-based detection, flagging deviations from normal behavior to alert administrators.

Consider an IDS’s features, performance & cost. Compare its scalability against your organization’s growth expectations & network infrastructure size to ensure it can handle incoming traffic without impacting performance. Evaluate its effectiveness against specific threats, such as its ability to detect attacks within encrypted traffic & its sensitivity to local activities on host computers like unauthorized changes to files & settings.

Anomaly-based detection systems use machine learning to create & refine a model of what typical network behavior looks like & then flag anything that deviates from it, such as a process using more bandwidth than usual or a device opening a port that’s typically closed. These systems also effectively identify new, zero-day cyberattacks that might evade signature-based detection.

Network Monitoring

Network monitoring is the IT process of consistently overseeing a computer network to identify and address problems before they become major issues that impact organizational performance. It also provides early warning of infrastructure needs. It improves the utilization of IT resources by allowing them to spend less time putting out fires and more time working on projects that create bottom-line value for the organization.

Ideally, an advanced network monitoring system includes features that can detect unexpected traffic patterns and identify new devices on the network. This can alert organizations to possible cyberattacks, which may be triggered by uncharacteristic application usage or traffic patterns. This can also help them spot suspicious activity, such as a sudden drop in internet connectivity, which could indicate a data center outage. Network monitoring can detect these issues more quickly and accurately than traditional pinging or syslog monitoring.

Security Information and Event Management (SIEM)

Historically, the most effective way to detect threats was for security staff to manually investigate various logs and event data generated by IT systems and devices. SIEM software gathers immense amounts of data from multiple sources, normalizes and aggregates it, and applies real-time analysis to alert users of suspicious activity, potential attacks, or breaches in progress.

The best SIEM solutions provide a full range of capabilities for the security team, including advanced features such as lateral movement detection, entity behavior analysis, and automated incident response (SOAR). They also help with compliance management by automating auditing and reporting. For best results, a company should set a policy to define which activities and logs the tool should monitor. Security teams should also tune the correlation rules, ensuring the system doesn’t bombard them with too many high-priority false alarms. They should also document and practice their incident response plans to respond quickly when necessary.

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