Lane Gibson
, February 7, 2024
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The convergence of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) security has become a critical aspect of business operations. We’ve seen firsthand how businesses have amplified their productivity and increased efficiency by unifying their IT and OT systems, all while establishing a robust cybersecurity framework. In this blog, we’ll explain how to identify the difference between IT and OT systems, the different considerations these systems give to cybersecurity, and why IT-OT security integration is crucial for businesses.

According to a recent study, 54% of respondents indicated that training IT staff in OT security was a major barrier when it came to converging IT and OT systems. This shows how different IT and OT systems really are and how important it is to have the right people with the right skill set.

IT vs OT in Cybersecurity  

In the realm of cybersecurity, understanding the distinction between information technology and operational technology is vital. These two domains represent the backbone of modern technological infrastructure, but they can differ significantly in their purpose, components, and security considerations.  

Definition of IT

Information technology encompasses a wide variety of interconnected devices and systems whose main responsibility is to process, transmit, and store data. Many think of routers, firewalls, switches, servers, Ethernet cables, and specific protocols such as TCP/IP when thinking about IT. IT is the backbone of the digital world, responsible for managing data, communication networks, and the sprawling digital architecture that supports our daily lives.

Definition of OT

In contrast, operational technology may not be as readily recognizable to the average person. OT helps manage our industrial machines and processes that have both computational and physical capabilities. The term OT is often used interchangeably with industrial technology or industrial control systems (ICS). When thinking about OT, many think of programmable logic controllers (PLCs), remote terminal units (RTUs), human-machine interfaces (HMIs), sensors, actuators, and robotic processes. But they can also include many of the technologies used within IT networks as well.  

The key differences between IT and OT  

  1. Nature of systems: OT systems are often “cyber-physical,” meaning they monitor and control our physical world. This is different from IT systems, which primarily deal with data and information management.
  2. Time sensitivity: OT systems are usually time-sensitive. Operations that are desynchronized, such as in an automotive assembly line or the activation of a safety system, can lead to inefficiencies, quality, or safety issues. IT systems, on the other hand, do not typically have this level of time sensitivity.
  3. Availability: High availability is crucial in OT environments to prevent financial risks or safety concerns. While downtime in IT systems can cause financial risks, they do not usually produce the same impact on safety.
  4. Change management: OT systems often have a rigorous change management process due to the significant impact these systems can have on safety or finances. Changes in IT systems, while still important, can usually be implemented more quickly.
  5. Maintenance and updates: OT systems often run for longer periods before maintenance is performed, leading to less frequent updates and patches. IT systems, conversely, may undergo regular updates and maintenance.
  6. Equipment age: OT systems often incorporate older equipment due to the need for high availability, the cost of change management, and the use of OS-specific proprietary or specialty software. IT systems, however, are often updated with newer technology.
  7. CIA triad: The confidentiality, integrity, and availability (CIA) triad is prioritized differently in IT and OT. IT systems typically prioritize confidentiality, while OT systems prioritize availability.

Despite these differences, IT and OT are becoming more and more interconnected in today’s digital landscape. It’s important for businesses to understand these differences to effectively manage and secure both types of systems.

Why IT/OT convergence is important in every industry

Regardless of the industry – be it healthcare, manufacturing, energy, or retail – the convergence of IT and OT is something that can no longer be ignored. Each industry, with its unique operational requirements and challenges can benefit from a well-planned and executed IT-OT security integration strategy.

In the healthcare sector for example, the integration of IT and OT can lead to improved patient care through real-time data analysis and remote monitoring. But without a robust cybersecurity framework, it could open avenues for potential cyber threats to compromise patient data and safety.

In manufacturing, IT-OT convergence can drive efficiencies and improve production processes. But, without a robust security strategy, it could expose critical infrastructure to risks.

Therefore, understanding the nuances of IT and OT and developing a convergence strategy is crucial for businesses across all industries. It not only bolsters your infrastructure and protects your operations but also gives you a competitive edge in the increasingly interconnected digital world.

The benefits of IT/OT convergence

Some of the key benefits of converging IT and OT systems include:

  • Improved collaboration: Convergence leads to better collaboration between IT and OT personnel. Having one team handle both IT and OT systems eliminates the risk of silos, which can hinder communication and data sharing.
  • Balanced funding: With a unified IT/OT team, funding can be more evenly distributed between IT and OT. Traditionally, most cybersecurity funds are allocated to IT, with OT often overlooked. However, the importance of protecting OT systems is increasingly recognized.
  • Technical advantages: The connectivity between OT and IT systems facilitates faster and more efficient information transfer. This can help automate and optimize business functions, potentially reducing business costs.
  • Holistic network view: Converging IT and OT systems provides the cybersecurity team with a comprehensive view of the business’s network architecture, enhancing their ability to secure their systems.

Next steps in strengthening cybersecurity with IT/OT convergence

In the face of rapidly evolving cyber threats, safeguarding your organization goes beyond just deploying the latest apps and tools—it requires specialized expertise and customized solutions. Alithya is your trusted advisor when it comes to securing your critical systems and data. Our suite of cybersecurity services and solutions is designed to not only ensure regulatory compliance but also to mitigate cyber threat risks and provide your business with a robust and secure foundation.

We offer a diverse range of services to help improve your IT/OT strategy or implement convergence to boost your protection measures. Recognizing that cybersecurity is an ongoing process, we provide all levels of support and continue to assist you as your cybersecurity posture evolves and matures. With Alithya, you’re never alone on your cybersecurity journey.

Contact us for more information on how we can help improve your cybersecurity posture and reduce cyber risk.

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