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Does it Take a Pair of SOCs to Manage Both IT and OT Security?

October 24, 2023

Does it Take a Pair of SOCs to Manage Both IT and OTSecurity?

In the ever-evolving landscape of cybersecurity, the distinctions between IT (Information Technology) and OT (OperationalTechnology) have become increasingly vital for organizations seeking to safeguard their digital and physical assets. The convergence of IT and OT has led to a paradigm shift, necessitating specialized attention to secure the unique environments that OT encompasses. The common question arises: Is it necessary to have distinct Security Operations Centers (SOCs) for IT and OT?

Traditionally, IT and OT operated in separate realms, with IT focusing on data management and OT handling industrial control systems. While there are indeed commonalities and a shared knowledge base that spans across IT and OT, there are also some stark differences. Even identical devices or asset scan behave vastly differently in an OT environment compared to an IT environment, with the potential consequences of disruption varying significantly in terms of production time, operational continuity, and crucially, safety. These distinctions underscore the necessity for specialized expertise and tailored security approaches to effectively manage and mitigate risks in each domain. In light of this, organizations are contemplating whether to integrate IT and OT SOCs or maintain separate entities.

Some organizations opt for a singular SOC, striving for a holistic view of their cybersecurity landscape. Others maintain a cleardemarcation, establishing separate SOCs for IT and OT, mirroring their organizational structure. We’ve seen success stories on both sides of the fence.

The truth is: the effectiveness of either a unified SOC or distinct SOCs for IT and OT hinges less on the chosen structure and more on the presence of sufficient OT expertise within the teams.

The capacity to make informed, accurate decisions in response to threats and anomalies in the operational environment is crucial, underscoring the imperative for organizations to ensure their SOC personnel possess the necessary knowledge and skills specific to OT systems, regardless of the structural path they choose.

 A common pitfall in integrating IT and OT security operations is the assumption that IT cybersecurity analysts can seamlessly transition into managing OT security. This assumption is often well intentioned, but misguided. The intricacies of OT systems demand a unique skill set. In the same way we have different doctors for different things. All are highly skilled professionals, but their expertise lies in vastly different domains. Similarly, expecting IT analysts to proficiently manage OT security without proper training and experience is unrealistic and potentially perilous.

 If an organization chooses to integrate its IT and OT SOCs, it must ensure the presence of analysts who possess an intimate understanding of OT systems. These specialists play a pivotal role in deciphering the unique behaviors of OT devices, recognizing what constitutes normal operations, and identifying potential security threats. In the OT world, actions that would be red flags in IT may be commonplace, and the response protocols differ significantly. While an IT analyst might isolate a device or implement a firewall rule, an OT analyst is more likely to pick up the phone and directly contact the relevant personnel on site.

Cross-training between IT and OT analysts is beneficial, fostering a comprehensive understanding of both domains. However, it is paramount that organizations do not underestimate the necessity of having OT specialists in their SOCs. These experts bring invaluable insights into the peculiarities of OT systems, guiding the organization toward a robust security posture. 

Empowering the SOC with Rich OT Data

Once you have the right expertise in the SOC, you need to enrich the team with comprehensive, timely, and accurate OT asset data. When an anomaly occurs in the system, the SOC requires exhaustive details about the affected endpoint — quickly.We’re referring to details such as software versions, potential vulnerabilities, patches applied, firewall rules, and the positions of PLC keyswitches, with historical context and identification of system changes.

Knowing the devices is a start, but without deeper detail, SOC analysts will be hamstrung by additional manual investigation, leading to delayed responses and prolonged recovery efforts. With OT endpoints at our fingertips, we can better identify the extent of an attack, assess the risks to operations, and expedite our protective measures. When it comes to recovery, consistent, reliable data collection makes for effective back ups. Historical data and established baselines are crucial for system restoration, ensuring all configurations, including firewall settings, can be reverted to their verified and secure states.

To explore how you can empower your OT security experts with complete OT asset data, we encourage you to reach out for a personalized demo with one of our experts. Reach out to the team today!