Convergence of IT and OT: the dimensions of cyber security in the IIoT

In the course of the rapid progress of digitalisation, the significance of topics such as information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) is escalating in the realm of cybersecurity. The convergence of IT and OT, particularly in the context of Industry 4.0, introduces an escalating risk of cyber attacks. Consequently, companies are confronted with a novel challenge that demands effective solutions. In the subsequent discussion, we spotlight the paramount risks linked with the convergence of IT and OT and present potential solutions to mitigate them. Explore the evolving landscape of cybersecurity in the digital era and fortify your defences against emerging threats.

Challenges in cyber security


As digitalisation and the integration of IT and OT systems in smart factories progresses, the risks of cyber attacks are also increasing. Previously isolated and protected OT systems can become weak points if they are integrated into internal company networks and are subject to AI control. The difficulty lies in effectively shielding both the sensitive IT systems and the OT areas that control critical physical processes. A deep understanding and new approaches to cyber security are required to master these complex and ever-changing threat scenarios.


The increasing convergence of IT and OT


Traditionally, operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) were operated in separate networks with specific protocols to ensure security through the air-gap concept. The different objectives and requirements of OT and IT are due to the fact that IT security has not been a priority issue in OT systems. However, the increased integration of IT and OT networks in smart factories has led to a merging of these areas.

Convergence significantly expands the potential attack surface, especially for OT systems that were previously isolated. The integration of internet-based protocols into OT networks and the increased networking of IT and OT systems lead to new security risks that require increased attention. Cyberattacks on OT systems can have serious consequences and are therefore becoming an increasingly important issue for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).


The course of a cyber attack


Cyber attacks are one of the biggest threats to companies and organisations worldwide. Hackers use different methods and techniques to penetrate networks, steal sensitive information or damage systems. To better understand these threats, they can be categorised into different phases in which the hackers pursue their goals and use specific techniques. Detailed knowledge of these phases enables companies to better protect their networks and recognise unauthorised access at an early stage. In principle, the question is no longer whether a cyberattack will occur, but rather when.


The phases of a cyber attack:

  1. Reconnaissance: In the beginning, hackers look specifically for potential targets and gather information about vulnerabilities.
  2. Intrusion and presence: In this step, the attackers attempt to gain access to the target system and secure remote access to ensure long-term control and presence.
  3. Spread: After infiltrating the target system, hackers use further network reconnaissance techniques to expand their presence and gain wider access.
  4. Privileges escalate: The attackers exploit the vulnerabilities found and extend their authorisations to gain control over access systems and expand their insight into more sensitive areas of the network.
  5. Attack: In the final phase, the intruders carry out targeted attacks to either extract data or destroy systems.


The challenge of cyber security in IT and OT


The increasing complexity of cyber security results from the diverging requirements and technologies of IT and OT. OT systems, which are usually in operation for a long period of time, are often not up to date with the latest technology and therefore require specific security measures.

The challenges involved in securing OT networks are many and varied and harbour different potential risks:

  1. Complexity of cyber attacks: There is a growing number of cyber attacks that directly target control systems, leading to operational failures and significant damage.
  2. Industry-specific effects: Security gaps in OT networks can have serious consequences for critical infrastructures such as the manufacturing industry, the energy sector and traffic control.
  3. Physical threat: Attacks on OT networks can potentially jeopardise human lives, especially if they affect the functioning of security controls.
  4. Fragmentation of OT systems: The diversity of existing OT systems and technologies makes it difficult to introduce standardised security measures and increases the complexity of security processes.
  5. Outdated technologies: Many OT systems use outdated technologies that are often not compatible with the latest security standards. This makes them more vulnerable to attacks and complicates the implementation of appropriate security measures.
  6. Long lifecycles: OT systems generally have longer lifecycles than IT systems. This means that patches and updates may not be carried out regularly, which increases the risk of known security vulnerabilities.

Appropriate measures to protect against cybercrime

The realisation of a far-reaching cyber security strategy requires a series of steps to be implemented by companies.

  1. Evaluation of cyber security maturity and development of a strategy: Firstly, the relevant systems and sensitive data must be identified for the company in order to develop a comprehensive security strategy.
  2. Implementation and organisational design: This includes the application of technological measures such as network segmentation and the clear definition of roles and responsibilities within the company.
  3. Continuous monitoring, incident analyses and response management: The use of active monitoring enables the early detection of potential vulnerabilities and attacks, allowing a rapid response and containment in the event of an emergency.

Protection against unauthorised access


By applying advanced security measures such as increased visibility, network segmentation and secure access, improved control and security for OT networks is achieved. By implementing specific security practices and deception technologies, threats in OT networks can be more effectively detected and countered. The use of lures and decoys is an effective means of deceiving potential attackers and detecting unauthorised access at an early stage.

The placement of security solutions at network level is of great importance in order to identify and control the spread of cyber attacks within the OT network. These solutions enable anomalies to be detected quickly and give security managers the opportunity to take effective protective measures.

Organisational measures also play a major role. These include clearly defined security guidelines, employee training to raise awareness of cyber threats and effective security processes throughout the organisation. A holistic approach that comprehensively protects both IT and OT systems is essential for Industry 4.0 companies that want to successfully fend off unauthorised access.



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Xantaro Deutschland GmbH
Xantaro's team of experts consists of highly qualified professionals from various disciplines who research the latest trends in the network technology industry with passion and expertise.

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