Nexon blog - Did you lock the back door? Why operational technology (OT) is a rising target for cybercrime.

The heat has been on securing corporate IT systems from hackers, but the rise of connected devices in industrial operations exposes new vulnerabilities and risks that can be more damaging than data breaches.

While IT focuses largely on data and software, OT – which includes the Industrial Control Systems (ICS) that run and monitor equipment – directly controls assets and machinery in the physical world. Think about all the systems behind product assembly lines, water treatment plants, medical facilities, autonomous harvesters, mining drills, traffic lights or railway signal boxes.

It’s a problem emerging from the shadows. A 2024 OT survey found that ~70% of industrial organisations have faced a cyberattack in the past year, with 1 in 4 experiencing a shutdown of operations as a result.1

The threats come from usual sources, such as hackers, extortionists, disgruntled employees and attention seekers. However, more than simply stealing sensitive information, OT attacks could gain access to and control of powerful machinery or transport networks with the potential to disrupt communities, cause million-dollar outages, destroy brand reputations, cause injuries and even endanger lives.

Why is OT cyber security so important now?

Established industries like mining, agriculture, manufacturing and transport are built on type-approved technology platforms that are designed to operate for decades and are often from an era when cyber security considerations were not a priority.

With the rise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), this aging infrastructure is increasingly being connected to modern networks, which it was never intended for.

As a result, many industrial organisations run on OT systems that lack basic security features, making them vulnerable to attacks by leaving the back door open to unauthorised access.

Why is it such an important and complex challenge to overcome?

Traditionally, the teams that run corporate IT and industrial OT operate in isolated silos with separate teams, budgets, priorities and cultures. It can be a matter of the suits in the head office versus the onsite teams in the field – with limited cooperation.

Concerningly, 40% of OT leaders report that their OT and IT teams are frictional, and only 12% say they are aligned.1

The emergence of big data, analytics, Cloud computing and artificial intelligence makes it more critical than ever for IT and OT to be closely connected. Every piece of operational and production data fed in from thousands of connected devices can be analysed and turned into valuable insights to optimise the industrial machine.

Real-time data now drives everything, including supply chain optimisation, inventory management, resource scheduling, financial forecasts, sustainability reporting, production workflows, predictive maintenance, optimised schedules, product innovation and more.

Securely bridging the IT and OT gap

Creating a secure bridge is critical to allow real-time data to flow securely from OT to IT. There, it can be analysed to inform business decisions and then fed back into the machine in the form of analytics and intelligence while creating a barrier to prevent unauthorised access.

While fully securing and modernising legacy industrial OT systems is complex – and requires long-term upgrades and domain expertise – fortunately, many of the most significant vulnerabilities can be defended and monitored with enterprise-level security measures.

At Nexon, we work with customers in industries ranging from agribusiness and manufacturing to healthcare and transport to strengthen their OT security and resilience by building a secure data conduit between their OT and IT networks and a rock-solid perimeter defence.

It starts with network segmentation, which involves separating the IT systems from the OT systems and then further dividing the OT network into isolated zones to limit damage if one is compromised. It’s like having multiple locked doors within a building.

It starts with network segmentation, which involves separating the IT systems from the OT systems and then further dividing the OT network into isolated zones to limit damage if one is compromised. It’s like having multiple locked doors within a building.

In addition, we implement best-practice cyber security solutions inside each network zone to secure the servers, routers, firewalls, switches, programmable logic controllers (PLC) and field devices. These solutions include software patching, access control, perimeter security, and continuous monitoring for suspicious activity.

Combining your specialist industrial domain knowledge with Nexon’s proven networking and security expertise, we can work together to bridge the IT and OT gap without leaving back doors unlocked.

Garth Sperring is GM – Network at Nexon Asia Pacific. For more information about Nexon’s networking, security and SASE solutions, contact Nexon today.

1 Palo Alto Networks, The State Of OT Security: A Guide To Trends, Risks & Cyber Resilience, 2024