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The Distinction Between Asset Management and Asset Inventory in Operational Technology and Their Roles in Cybersecurity

July 14, 2023

Operational technology (OT) has become an integral part of businesses across various sectors, spanning from manufacturing to energy. With this rise in usage, the need for robust cybersecurity measures is more vital than ever to protect these digital assets and ensure business continuity. Central to any effective cybersecurity program are asset management and asset inventory. Despite these terms being sometimes used interchangeably, they represent different concepts and play unique roles in cybersecurity.

Asset Inventory in Operational Technology

At the most basic level, asset inventory in OT space refers to the cataloging of all the digital assets within an organization. These assets can include software applications, hardware devices, data centers, network infrastructure, or any other physical or virtual components that contribute to the business's operational functionality.

The primary aim of asset inventory is to have an exhaustive list of all assets within an organization, thereby providing a holistic view of the resources at hand. This process is usually the first step in creating a comprehensive cybersecurity program as it helps organizations understand what they need to protect.

In the context of cybersecurity, asset inventory helps identify potential vulnerabilities across the network. For example, knowing which systems are running outdated software can allow the organization to prioritize updates, thereby reducing exposure to known vulnerabilities associated with that software.

Asset Management in Operational Technology

While asset inventory is about understanding what assets exist, asset management dives deeper into how these assets are used and how they can be optimized. It includes the management of the entire lifecycle of assets, from procurement and deployment to operation, maintenance, and disposal.

Asset management focuses on the functionality and performance of assets, ensuring they are up-to-date, efficient, and reliable. This involves regular audits, updates, and maintenance routines, all of which are essential for maintaining the operational integrity and reducing cybersecurity risks.

In the cybersecurity context, asset management involves constant monitoring and regular patching of assets. It is not only about knowing that an asset exists but understanding how it functions within the network, what data it handles, and what potential vulnerabilities it might have.

Asset Management and Asset Inventory as Integral Parts of a Cybersecurity Program

Understanding the difference between asset management and asset inventory is critical for the success of a cybersecurity program. These two components work hand-in-hand to provide a comprehensive view of an organization's digital landscape and potential risks associated with it.

An accurate asset inventory provides the foundation for effective asset management. You cannot manage what you cannot see. By identifying all assets within the organization, businesses can then focus on managing these assets to minimize potential vulnerabilities and optimize performance.

Asset management, on the other hand, takes this a step further by continuously updating and maintaining these assets. It involves the application of various security measures such as patches and updates, firewall configurations, and the enforcement of access control policies.

Furthermore, the integration of asset management and asset inventory into a larger cybersecurity program helps to reduce risk for business continuity. By identifying and managing assets effectively, organizations can proactively address potential security risks before they escalate into incidents that disrupt business operations.

In a world where cyber threats are becoming increasingly sophisticated and frequent, the ability to manage and inventory assets effectively can mean the difference between staying ahead or falling victim to these threats. As such, organizations should strive to understand and apply these principles effectively in their OT space to ensure their operational resilience and business continuity.

Learn more about how Industrial Defender can help you with your OT Asset Management program here: