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Spring Forward in OT Security with Efficient Configuration & Change Management

March 13, 2024

If you’re in a region that observes daylight saving time, this week you're likely adjusting to the effects of "springing forward." Last Sunday, many of us set our clocks one hour ahead in anticipation of longer days and more evening light. Whether you hate the thought of losing an hour of sleep and facing darker mornings or you're looking forward to extended daylight and the start of spring, we all had to run around updating all the clocks around us. While our internet-connected devices would have automatically adjusted, there’s likely at least one or two clocks or wristwatches lagging behind, displaying the wrong time until manually corrected.

Walking around to each clock around the house got me thinking about configuration management, and the challenge of doing that manually across the plant floor. I thought about just how convenient it would be to have one central place to identify and update all the clocks and watches I have (especially the ones I’ve forgotten about). So too can we appreciate the benefits of automatically identifying all our OT assets and systems and ensuring they’re all configured securely and as expected.

Organizations must continuously manage and adjust their OT configurations to maintain operational efficiency, cybersecurity, and comply with regulatory standards.

In the context of OT environments, especially within critical infrastructure, the stakes of configuration and change management are obviously significantly higher than clocks showing the wrong time. Misconfigurations or unmanaged changes in these environments can present serious risks, exposing systems to cyber threats and potentially resulting in operational disruptions, financial loss, and damage to an organization's reputation.

Finding and updating all your clocks is annoying. Assessing and configuring all your OT systems can be a Herculean feat.  

Automating this enables continuous monitoring and assessment of configurations, ensuring that systems are always aligned with the latest security policies, compliance requirements, and known, good baselines This automated approach not only increases operational efficiencies by reducing the manual labor involved in maintaining configurations but also enhances the security posture by promptly detecting and mitigating potential cyber risks before they can be exploited.

Furthermore, in operational technology environments—critical to the functioning of utilities, manufacturing plants, and other industrial systems—the importance of securing configurations cannot be overstated. These systems control physical processes and can have direct impacts on public safety and the physical world. As such, hardening these OT environments against cyber threats is an essential part of protecting critical infrastructure (see: NERC CIP, NIST CSF, CIS Critical Controls, IEC 62443, and all leading frameworks. Effective configuration and change management play a crucial role in this hardening process, ensuring that systems are not only configured securely from the outset but also maintained in a secure state through all subsequent changes.

Staying on top of configuration changes in OT environments is crucial.  An unsynchronized clock can cause confusion or lead to being late, but a single misconfigured device in an OT environment can open the door to cyber threats, potentially leading to widespread impact. The dynamic nature of cyber threats and the continuous evolution of technology standards necessitate an ongoing, proactive approach to configuration and change management. This includes regular assessments, timely updates, and the ability to quickly respond to newly identified vulnerabilities or regulatory changes.

With spring just around the corner, bringing with it a sense of renewal and fresh starts, perhaps we can assess our fundamental security controls with "spring cleaning" attitude. Tidy up OT asset inventories and configurations; ensure you have trustworthy data on OT asset inventories where you can see that all systems properly updated, patched and/or configured; and then continue to monitor for changes that could pose security, operational and compliances risks.

By establishing a baseline of what we consider a "good" configuration, organizations can set a standard for maintaining and monitoring their systems going forward. This baseline acts as a reference point, ensuring that all future changes are deliberate, documented, and aligned with the organization's security and operational goals. Furthermore, it aids in quickly identifying deviations or anomalies that could indicate a security breach or compliance issue.

Along with longer days and warmer weather, let’s also welcome a season of proper visibility into our OT environments, effective OT asset management, and efficient implementation and maintenance of foundational security controls.

Learn more about configuration and change management in OT environments from Industrial Defender here.