IT VS OT Cybersecurity: A Comprehensive Comparison

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IT VS OT Cybersecurity: A Comprehensive Comparison

According to the Trend Micro report, 47% of businesses consider new assets containing malicious code, files and vulnerabilities as the biggest source of operational technology incidents. To mitigate the rising threat, a vast majority (93%) of businesses have started using operational technology security solutions. 85% of businesses are planning improvements while 76% are speeding up adoption by increasing spending on operational technology security.

Operational technology security differs greatly from IT security. This means that the cybersecurity approaches you are accustomed to using to protect your information technology systems won’t work when it comes to securing your operational technology infrastructure. Unfortunately, most businesses try to use the same tactics and fail at operational technology security.

You should first understand the differences between information technology and operational technology cybersecurity and what threats and vulnerabilities affect both types of infrastructure in order to do a better job at it. That is exactly what this article will help you with. In this article, we will compare operational technology cybersecurity with information technology cybersecurity.

IT VS OT Cybersecurity: A Comprehensive Comparison



Here are three common differences that differentiate operational technology cybersecurity from information technology cybersecurity.

1. Objective

IT serves as a business enabler helping businesses streamline their business processes, make smart decisions, and extract insights from large data sets. On the flipside, operational technology systems’ objectives are to improve the efficiency, reliability, and security of industrial processes and procedures.

2. Infrastructure

IT infrastructure is responsible for data collection, storage, cybersecurity analysis, and management. On the contrary, operational technology infrastructure mostly comprises hardware such as machines, devices, and sensors used in production. Most of these hardware work in isolation and are not connected to each other like IT systems.

3. Technology

The underlying technologies that power both information technology systems and operational technology systems differ greatly from one another. IT infrastructure is powered by applications, communication networks, and databases while operational technology infrastructure is powered by industrial control systems, programmable logic controls, and SCADA systems. 

Integration Challenges


Both operational technology and information technology pose different challenges for businesses. The three main challenges are:

  1. Cultural Differences

As mentioned before, both operational technology and information technology have different goals. This means that the priorities of the IT department will be different from the OT department. When you try to integrate IT and OT systems, you will experience this issue. It puts more emphasis on security while OT strives toward operational excellence.

  1. Security Risks

Integrating IT and OT systems could have many security implications for businesses. Irrespective how carefully you go about the process, vulnerabilities, and security loopholes are bound to occur. This gives cyber attackers an opportunity to get their foot in the door and wreak havoc on your business.

  1. Protocol Difference

Information technology and operational technology follow different protocols, which also makes it harder to integrate these two technologies. They are governed by different standards.

Threats and Vulnerabilities


Ransomware attacks, social engineering attacks such as phishing attacks, and trojan horses pose the biggest threat to information technology systems  On the other hand, lack of encryption, use of legacy systems and hardware as well as outdated protocols makes operational technology systems more prone to cybersecurity attacks and data breaches.

Operational technology systems can also fall prey to similar threats that impact IT systems. For instance, they can be targeted by a denial of service attack, ransomware attack, malware, and physical attacks. The rising geopolitical tensions between different nations of the world could lead to an increase in state-sponsored attacks that target your operational technology systems. The primary purpose of such attacks is to disrupt your business operations or operations of critical infrastructure such as a grid station.

Strategies for Security


To protect your IT systems from cybersecurity attacks and data breaches, businesses must enforce stringent access control policies. Patch management and keeping software up to date can minimize vulnerabilities that can be exploited by threat actors. Using advanced encryption can protect your data from being stolen and spoofed both in transit and at rest.

Employee awareness can also play a crucial role. Organize cybersecurity training programs to increase employee cybersecurity awareness. The more aware your employees are about the tactics attackers use to trick them, the less likely they are to fall prey to them. This can also help you prevent social engineering attacks from becoming successful.

In order to secure your operational technology systems, you have to develop a secure architecture and have a well-thought-out incident response plan ready. This will not only help you mitigate the risk of cybersecurity attacks that target your operational technology infrastructure but it can also give your cybersecurity team a much-needed direction regarding how to respond to those cybersecurity threats.

Conduct regular security audits and risk assessments to evaluate the risk posed by attackers to your operational technology systems. Constantly look out for vulnerabilities in your operational technology systems and plug the loopholes before they can be exploited by malicious threat actors.

Enforce strict access control rules to ensure the right person has access to these business-critical operational technology systems. When creating an incident response plan for operational technology systems, look at the consequences a cybersecurity attack on operational technology infrastructure could have for your business.

Having an incident response plan is not enough. You need to consistently test it to ensure that it works when you need it the most. An effective incident response plan can help your business reduce downtime and can even help you prevent business disruption.

How To Integrate IT and OT Security?

Here are some of the steps you can take to seamlessly integrate OT and IT security.

  • Develop and implement unified security policies
  • Implement continuous monitoring
  • Create a cross-functional cybersecurity governance structure that brings IT and OT teams together
  • Establish vendor security standards

Did this article help you understand the key differences, challenges, and security risks to both operational technology and information technology systems? Share your feedback with us in the comments section below.