Best Practices to Improve Efficiency with Operational Technology

In this fast-paced world, operational technology needs optimization and efficient use to keep businesses afloat. Operational technology requires similar fundamental components as IT systems to ensure reliability. As such, OT environments would need constant updates and patches so they can function well and remain well-secured.

In this article, let’s explore the realm of operational technology and discover the strategies to enhance its efficiency and reliability.

Operational Technology: An Introduction

Before we head over to the main matter itself, let’s learn what Operational Technology is first. So, Operational Technology is summed up as programmable systems that can interact in the physical world. 

They are systems that can detect or cause direct changes through monitoring and controlling devices. Examples of these programmable systems include fire detection systems and industrial-grade control systems.

Best Practices to Improve OT Efficiency

Now that we are familiar with what operational technology is, let’s explore some of the best practices for improving it. Listed here are the advisable practices that you can use to maximize the use of OT environments:

1. Constant Updates

Sometimes there comes a point where you need to make updates. They’re either software updates or the latest OT Cyber Security patches. The former tends to include new functionalities or updates to already existing features. In the case of the latter-mentioned update, it’s for protection against outside attacks.

Consider this scenario to gain a better understanding. Also, at the same time; updates shield your assets from sabotage attempts.

2. Detecting Suspicious Activities

Figuring out suspicious activities in OT environments is crucial to smooth operations. These activities can range from being exposed to malware attacks. Keeping an eye out for these questionable activities ensures your assets are protected. At the same time, you are keeping yourself distracted from false flags.

Optimizing your OT security also ensures that you avoid underreporting. This will minimize the chances that cyber threats can sneak into your systems.

3. Forming a Network Map and Analyzing Connections

Operators must have a clear understanding of the physical and digital locations of devices. These said devices are all part of a vast operational technology network map. This practice should be a high-priority concern for all Operational Technology managers. You should ensure that all physical and digital devices are in the right place.

Let’s use one scenario so you can get an idea. For example, your programmable logic controller ended up communicating with the wrong person in the crew. It is discovered that this error is caused by a glitch in the system. The manager would require you to jump in, look into the problem and find solutions ASAP.

  • It’s advisable to also create a mitigation plan. Should a problem arise in your OT environments, the plan should lessen the problem’s impact. On top of that, it could ensure that operations can resume while the technical issues get resolved.

4. Use a Zero-Trust Framework

Practice a “never trust, always verify” framework on your operational technologies. In this framework, every person and device is assumed as a threat until verified. Therefore, they’ll need to present a form of legitimacy before they can link up with your system.

To demonstrate legitimacy, entities need to authenticate themselves using a multi-factor authentication system.  This means they’ll need more than one means to show that they’re not suspicious. For example, your team members may require the following to verify their identity:

  • Present a password to the system
  • Answering a security question
  • Submitting a scan of their fingerprints

Implementing a “never trust, always verify” or Zero-Trust framework reduces the likelihood of system attacks. At the same, you also minimize the amount of extra work needed to optimize your OT security framework.

5. Entrusting the Correct Remote Access Tools

To enhance efficiency in your operational technology, it is crucial to allocate the appropriate tools to the right individuals. By allocating the right items to your team members, you ensure a steady and smooth flow of the business. Keep in mind that, unlike IT systems, OT systems don’t have a full suite of tools that are configured for immediate remote access.

But, it does have its perks that the administrator can make use of, which are:

  • Identity and credential management
  • Password control and security
  • Multi-factor authentication (which we’ve just discussed earlier)
  • Entrusting the right tools to select individuals assigned to a specific or pivotal task
  • Activity monitoring and management for all employees. Very handy to keep an eye on access permits for all team members.

6. Access Control and Management

Controlling access to your operational technology is of utmost importance. Permitting the wrong individuals inside the system can make it easier for attacks to penetrate through your OT security setup. That aside, employees may also leave their credentials exposed to a hacker. 

To avoid such situations, a system administrator should take the following steps : 

  • Educate all team members about safeguarding access credentials
  • Implementing a “least-privilege policy” in the company. For context, it means you need to limit the access rights to only select employees. That would be the team members who are assigned to these tasks and require access rights.
  • Cancel all access privileges of former or removed employees right away.  Some employees can be a little grudgeful and may leave a nasty parting gift if you don’t revoke their access privilege.
  • Revoke access rights for visitors and other guests, as they are usually granted temporary permits.

Conclusion : 

To ensure smooth operations, operational technology necessitates a set of practices. To recap, the practices we need to use are updating the system to its latest versions. You also need to form a network map to show where the physical and digital tools are at. You also need to keep tabs on all OT system activities to weed out any suspicious activities and attacks.

Should any issues arise in your framework, you should have a mitigation plan to lessen the damage created by the problem. By mastering these practices, your OT environments can operate at their optimal condition.

Leave a Comment