In today’s digital landscape, the protection of operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) represents a critical facet of security. 

However, these domains differ significantly in function and purpose, leading to distinct and differing considerations in their safeguarding. 

In this article, we explore key aspects differentiating the protection of OT from IT and why these differences are of paramount importance.

Divergent Function and Purpose

1. Operational Technology 

OT encompasses hardware and software systems designed to manage and oversee physical processes. 

These include such things as industrial control systems (ICS), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems and machinery. 

Its primary role is to control and monitor critical infrastructure and industrial operations.

2. Information Technology

 

IT, on the other hand, revolves around the management, storage, and transmission of digital information. 

This domain deals with computers, networks, databases, and software, supporting functions like data management, communication, and information processing.

Operational Environment

1. Operational Technology 

OT systems operate in industrial settings, including power plants, manufacturing facilities, transportation systems, and utilities. 

These environments require real-time monitoring, control of physical equipment, and integration with legacy systems.

2. Information Technology 

IT systems function within office spaces and data centres, focusing on data processing, storage, and communication. 

Designed for business applications, they encompass email services, financial systems, web services, and administrative functions.

Reliability and Safety

1. Operational Technology 

Reliability and safety in OT systems is paramount due to their direct impact on physical processes and critical infrastructure. 

Failures can lead to operational downtime, safety hazards, environmental harm, and significant economic losses.

2. Information Technology 

While reliability is also crucial for IT systems, the consequences of failures are generally less immediate and direct. 

IT failures can result in data breaches, service interruptions, financial losses, or compromised information, with lower inherent risks to physical safety and infrastructure.

Legacy Systems and Interoperability

1. Operational Technology 

OT systems often incorporate legacy equipment and technologies that have been in operation for extended periods. 

These systems may have limited computational capabilities, use proprietary protocols, and lack built-in security features. 

Interoperability and integration challenges are common in OT environments.

2. Information Technology 

IT systems typically adhere to modern standards, with contemporary hardware, operating systems, and networking protocols. 

They benefit from established security practices, routine software updates, and a broader range of security tools and solutions.

Security Focus

1. Operational Technology 

Protecting OT systems centres on preventing physical harm, ensuring operational continuity, and safeguarding critical infrastructure. 

Security measures for OT encompass access control, network segmentation, physical security, anomaly detection, and incident response tailored to the specifics of industrial processes and risks.

2. Information Technology 

IT security revolves around safeguarding data, maintaining information confidentiality, ensuring integrity, and preserving availability. 

IT security measures include firewalls, encryption, antivirus software, access controls, vulnerability management, and security awareness training.

Why You Need to Embrace the Complexities of Cybersecurity in OT

These distinctions emphasise the unique cybersecurity challenges of OT and the critical need for tailored security strategies. 

In an increasingly interconnected world, where the boundaries between IT and OT are blurring, it’s essential to recognise these differences and apply a holistic approach that respects the specific requirements of both domains.

Cybersecurity for OT is not merely an extension of IT security; it’s a realm of its own. 

As industries embrace digital transformation, the convergence of IT and OT brings forth new challenges and necessitates a comprehensive approach that respects the unique characteristics of each domain.

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