Posing a greater challenge

As the world move towards digital transformation, and rise of IoT even in the industrial space, lines are turning blur between Operation Technology (OT) security and Information Technology (IT) security thereby posing a greater challenge to the security of the critical infrastructure for various nations in the Middle East.

Emile Abou

Since the Stuxnet attack few years back in the region that have exposed the sensitive state of Operational Technology security. Expressing his thoughts Emile Abou Saleh, Sr. Manager Regional Sales, Middle East & Russia CIS from Forcepoint said “Today, organizations are struggling to bridge the gap between IT (information technology) and OT (operational technology) to introduce security controls to their plant floor or operational facilities without impacting the availability of operations. Increased connectivity of these devices through Internet of Things coupled with an increased threat landscape present unique challenges for CISOs and plant operators today.”

Megha Kumar

Although, this gap has led to many organizations to work more closely towards integration of OT and IT but still the gap persists between the two. Commenting on this state, Megha Kumar, Research Director at IDC MEA points out that given many OT systems are linked to IT systems, there was clearly a need to refine security standards and systems to ensure that these systems do not incur downtime.

With the increase in deployment of new Industrial IoT (IIoT) devices such as smart meters, automated asset distribution systems, and self-monitoring transformers, the vulnerabilities are also on the rise. As per Kalle Bjorn, Director, Systems Engineering at Fortinet, “These changes aren’t without risks. A cyber-attack that successfully targets an OT ICS, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) control system, or even connected devices such as valves, gauges, or switches, could result in devastating physical consequences to such things as critical infrastructure and services, the environment, and even human life.”

Mohammad Jama

Mohammad Jamal Tabbara, Senior Systems Engineer, UAE at Infoblox believes that “Fortunately, regional enterprises are already deploying OT security solutions since few years back, yet they are continuing to do so as a must, especially with the advent and adoption of IoT & AI in the OT ecosystem, which might bring unprecedented threats to the OT, where existing OT security solutions might not be able to mitigate against.”

Tabbara added, “The disruption that IoT & AI bring to the OT is now adding complexity to the OT Security that requires advanced machine learning, untraditional security technologies, and new mind-set or way-of-thinking to be embraced as part of the cybersecurity-ecosystem of the OT.”

Kalle Bjorn

Looking at the positive end of the prism, Bjorn says “While globally most organizations acknowledge the importance of OT security and have already undertaken numerous measures to secure their OT systems, they also plan to increase SCADA/ICS security spending by 77%, which is more than in any other segment of their OT or IT network. Part of the reason for this increased funding is that nearly all decision makers acknowledge that there are potentially serious security challenges related to converging OT and IT. The same applies to the Middle East regionally, organizations have been targeted and there is a clear increase in security spending.”

Thanks to Oil & Gas sector, Middle East is home to one of largest installation base of SCADA/ICS and with new generation of industrial systems becoming more connected to the business-wide systems, it is critical that oragnisations deploy substantial defenses in place to protect themselves against the increased threat landscape. Saleh from Forcepoint believe that “Enterprises across the Middle East should ask themselves: are they prepared to deal with the threats of today: do they know how their systems will be converging over the next 3-5 years, and will they be ready to protect those converged systems?”

On other hand, Fortinet’s Bjorn is of the opinion that organisations in the region need to create a integrated security framework, which prioritizes critical functions such as speed, collaboration, advanced analytics, and risk-based decision making. Such an approach, built around a flexible fabric strategy, enables comprehensive protection at machine speed and scale, while integrating appropriate solutions across both IT and OT environments into a single, centralized, and automated security system.

Infoblox’s Tabbara suggests that “Regional enterprises need start re-evaluating their OT security and assess the potential gaps, identify the potential threat, and hunt for a security solution to mitigate these new potential threat.”

Another important factor is the awareness and training of the staff to stay abreast with the latest developments, trends and technology to ensure best practices are followed in protecting the systems. Commenting on this crucial aspect, Kumar from IDC said “Organizations need to properly define the role of IT and the OT team and ensure cross training between the two teams. This way each team understands tasks and operations of respective teams to ensure that right action is taken in light of an incident. Organizations will need to engage in constant monitoring and risk assessment and have a proper plan in place for OT and IT systems upgrades or patches.”