For all its benefits, IT-OT convergence is an open invitation to cyber threat actors unless your cybersecurity framework is up to snuff

The market for converging IT and-Operational Technologies in the Asia Pacific region (APAC) is estimated to develop at a compounded annual growth rate of 7.1% from 2022 to 2027.

By digitalizing the operation of important industrial infrastructure such as substations and plants, greater operational efficiency, performance, safety and resilience can be achieved amid global digital transformation efforts and rising consumer expectations.

Also, IT-OT convergence facilitates the use of edge computing and analytics to create even more market opportunities, as found out when we interviewed Belden’s Vice President of Solutions Delivery (APAC), Pavan Mahajan.

DigiconAsia: What will IT/OT convergence allow an operational technology firm to do that it could not do before?

Pavan Mahajan (PM): Benefits of a converged network include field-to-management visibility, greater control of all data and functionality in an organization, and better harnessing of data to achieve greater operational efficiency, performance, safety and profitability. Through convergence, OT firms able to collect, move, integrate and analyze data to automate processes and make better, more informed business decisions because both IT and OT data are available, and edge computing and analytics can be used to usher-in even greater opportunities for productivity and problem-solving.

DigiconAsia: Can convergence also open up unanticipated new risks and vulnerabilities?

PM: When it comes to IT/OT convergence there are unique challenges, although we believe none of them is insurmountable. The key is to look for ways to efficiently execute data streams in a manner that does not challenge the operational integrity of the OT network, prioritizing quality, safety and uptime – all foundational goals of the automation resulting from convergence. 

There is a need to actively address security as a core component of IT/OT convergence because expanded networks with more data transmission points create a greater need for security. With the integration of cloud computing, edge computing and the presence of older devices on an industrial network, this is a major area of vulnerability.

There are many measures to take to ensure network security, including the implementation of advanced network access control systems, industrial cybersecurity firewalls, and other hardware components to secure network infrastructures. 

Pavan Mahajan, Vice President of Solutions Delivery, Asia Pacific, Belden

Finally, it will be wise to talk about IT/OT convergence in the context of wired/wireless convergence. These two pieces work in concert to deliver secure, cross-system interoperability, and any gaps in wired/wireless coverage must be discovered through pre-convergence assessments. Without knowing the gaps, a firm will face a challenge when it finally has a fully functional converged network.

DigiconAsia: With that in mind, it is necessary to have a robust cybersecurity strategy in place before convergence.

PM: Yes, industrial settings are exceedingly vulnerable to cyber threats on a daily basis, putting a firm’s OT equipment, processes, networks and data at risk. Safety principles governing the OT environment, and security principles from IT best practices help to guard against this. Mandatory cyber safeguards include the use of industrial cybersecurity firewalls, unidirectional network appliances, and secure switches and routers for access control. In addition, network access control has to be integrated into the heart of the converged network infrastructures.

Furthermore, three industrial cybersecurity best practices have to be in pace to reduce operational risk and detect security threats:

    • Establish full network observability: Inventory all assets within the network—both hardware and software—and their functions to identify vulnerabilities present in the environment and have a comprehensive view of what needs securing.
    • Implement protective controls: Ensuring network segmentation between the corporate enterprise IT network and the industrial control network will help deny unauthorized network communication using firewalls or access control lists on networking devices.
    • Monitor the network continuously: As automation systems are evolving and the cyber threat landscape is constantly changing, monitoring needs to be performed continuously. This will optimize and control visibility and ensure the protective controls implemented are operating correctly.