Where Steel Meets Silicon: How Security Partnerships Fortify Industrial Operations

By Zakarya Drias, director of managed security services, Schneider Electric  

Zakarya Drias

Integrating IT and OT (operational technology) systems has been a major efficiency catalyst for the industrial sector. The necessary convergence also introduces ways for bad actors to worm their way into systems that were once more difficult to access. How industrial leaders stand up to security measures will go a long way toward ensuring operational resilience and maintaining the efficiency gains they’ve enjoyed since the onset of Industry 4.0. 

Sound security requires sought-after expertise

A recent report highlights how hackers have increasingly turned their sights on the OT world. In 2022, the report shows, attacks on OT systems were three times as prevalent as they were in 2020. The report details incursions that led to an equipment fire, a closed seaport, and impacted operations at major manufacturers. Unfortunately, nearly one-third of organizations also expect an increase in OT attacks in the years to come. 

The trend toward operational assets as attack targets requires careful prioritization of security measures. Firms that integrate security during the technology design, deployment and operation phase can mitigate the risks of modern attacks and continue to unlock the benefits of IT and OT convergence. In a word, proper security measures can be major enablers for the industrial sector. 

There is no simple way to integrate security in industrial settings. Even the savviest leaders must grapple with an array of questions, such as which standards and guidelines to follow, which attack vectors to protect against, and how to allocate resources toward ongoing security protocols. Making the appropriate decisions and building an enduring security program becomes even more difficult when considering that many firms operate legacy OT systems, likely face a skills or expertise gap and are reliant on third-party vendors for software and assets. 

Partnerships offer cost-effective and comprehensive cyber safeguards

In-house security is not typically the purview of industrial firms, and many may choose to partner with a managed security service provider (MSSP). MSSPs come equipped with the security expertise needed to implement a wall-to-wall program, from firewalls to mitigation measures, without the cost of an in-house 24/7 security operations center (SOC).  

However, not all MSSPs offer the same suite of skills or solutions. Industrial leaders performing due diligence might look for partners that understand the specifics of factory-floor security. MSSPs that can integrate seamlessly with Industry 4.0 networks will be experts in: programmable logic controllers (PLCs), distributed control systems (DCSs), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) environments, and broader control systems. They’ll also understand innately the regulatory environment, and whether to map security KPIs to IEC 62443 and/or NIST CSF, for example. 

Coverage from security partners should be comprehensive. Industrial firms should look for MSSPs that also use cutting-edge tooling to identify, analyze and respond to potential threats in real time; and enable a proactive approach by identifying vulnerabilities and implementing mitigative measures before an attack occurs. 

The right partner will represent a more cost-effective alternative to creating and upskilling in-house teams. By providing both the technical firepower and human know-how to thwart cyberattacks in their tracks, MSSPs will give firms the gift of time, allowing them to focus on the core business.

Thoughtful approach to modern security enables ongoing innovation

Moving forward, IT and OT systems in industrial environments will be inexorably linked. Convergence is the vanguard of seamless operations and perhaps even a solution to the many supply chain challenges that persist today. Embracing these new digital frontiers demands a holistic commitment to cybersecurity. Industrial firms that lean on MSSPs will enjoy a partner that aligns with any security maturity level, safeguards technological advancements and even fortifies operational foundations. 

While Industry 4.0 may seem like a double-edge sword that opens physical systems to digital threats, organizations that adopt a proactive security approach from the factory floor on up can reduce the risk of modern operations to facilitate a secure and resilient digital transformation journey.

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