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Formula One: The Ultimate Configuration Management Challenge

Today, I will outline an intriguing parallel between the adrenaline-fueled world of Formula One (F1), of which Hexagon technology is used by the Oracle Red Bull Racing team, and the meticulous realm of configuration management in operational technology (OT). This exploration delves into the dynamic challenges and strategies common to both domains.

An F1 team relies on the precise coordination of its pit crew, the fine-tuning of its race car and the strategic use of data and telemetry for real-time decisions. The field of OT demands similar levels of precision in managing human resources, configuring complex systems, adapting to changes, ensuring safety and compliance and pursuing continuous improvement.

Through this comparison, we uncover the essential principles of agility, teamwork and innovation that drive success in both high-speed racing and the intricate world of OT configuration management. 

The Pit Crew: Managing Human Resources  

In the fast-paced environment of F1, the pit crew's efficiency and coordination can mean the difference between winning and losing a race. Each crew member specializes in a different aspect of the pit stop, from changing tires to refueling. Their ability to work synchronously under immense pressure is critical.

Similarly, in the realm of OT cybersecurity and configuration management, the human element plays a vital role. Teams are comprised of individuals with various expertise and certifications such as network engineers, system administrators and cybersecurity experts, among others. The challenge lies in harmonizing these diverse skills to maintain and optimize complex industrial systems, such as power grids or water treatment facilities. Misalignment or communication gaps can lead to operational inefficiencies or, worse, system downtimes.

Furthermore, considering the recent SEC (Securities & Exchange Commission) cybersecurity rules, publicly traded OT operators are now required to assess risk and report on material incidents comprehensively across both Information Technology (IT) and OT landscapes. Achieving congruity in the effectiveness of controls and the estimation of remaining risk poses significant challenges due to inherent differences in platform architectures, operational procedures and functional objectives. 

The Race Car: The Heart of the Team

The race car in F1 is a marvel of engineering, with every component meticulously optimized for high performance and reliability. In the domain of OT, the infrastructure functions as the operational backbone, like how a race car serves its team.

This infrastructure, whether it is a factory's automation system, a city's traffic control network, or a hospital's life-support system, is composed of complex, interconnected components that must be precisely configured to work in unison. For example, consider a smart manufacturing plant where the harmonious operation of robotic arms, conveyor belts and quality control sensors are crucial.

A cyberattack targeting the configuration of these systems could be disastrous. If malicious actors were to gain control and cause even a slight desynchronization, it could result in production stoppages, product defects or even safety incidents. This is why, alongside physical configuration, robust cybersecurity capabilities and measures are essential to protect against such threats, ensuring the integrity and reliability of the OT environment just as the durability of each car part is vital to a racer's success. 

Visibility: Seeing the Full Picture 

In F1, visibility is crucial - not just in the literal sense of the driver's ability to see the track, but also in terms of the team's visibility and understanding of a car’s performance, the driver's condition, track conditions and the positions of other racers. This comprehensive visibility allows the team to make informed decisions, adjust strategies on the fly and react to the dynamic environment of a race. Similarly, in the realm of operational technology, achieving visibility into the network and its assets is foundational to effective cybersecurity and configuration management.

This includes not only those assets that actively communicate over the network but also isolated or 'silent' assets that might not regularly (or never) broadcast their status. Deep insights into the configurations, performance and health of all assets, including those in remote or segmented parts of the network, are critical. This level of visibility ensures that configuration management can be proactive, responsive and fully informed, allowing teams to anticipate issues before they arise, respond to changes swiftly and maintain optimal performance across the entire OT landscape.

Data and Telemetry: Real-Time Adjustments in OT Cybersecurity 

In an F1 race, data telemetry provides crucial information for split-second decisions that can affect the race outcome. Translating this concept to OT cybersecurity, the stakes are just as high. In a manufacturing plant, for example, real-time telemetry might involve the continuous surveillance of the network for unusual activity that could signal a cyber-attack. If the system detects unexpected communication between a programmable logic controller (PLC) and an external IP address, this could indicate a potential breach.  
Cybersecurity teams would then need to fully understand the role and position of the PLC in the overall architecture. They must have visibility into all the up-stream and down-stream assets to be able to respond appropriately. Much like a pit crew during a critical pit stop, look closely at the PLC and assess the nature of their communication and function. Then, working with the appropriate engineers, produce a remediation plan that may include firewall updates in OT, and potentially IT, that will be minimally disruptive.  
Moreover, they would analyze data logs and IT indicators of compromise to determine if the incident were part of a larger coordinated attack, requiring adjustments not only to the affected asset but across entire OT and IT networks. This cybersecurity vigilance ensures the continuous, safe operation of the industrial control systems, mirroring the way data telemetry informs race strategy and car performance in F1. 

Pit Stops: Change Management

The precision and speed of an F1 pit stop is awe-inspiring, with teams practicing tirelessly to minimize time lost during these critical moments. The efficiency of the pit crew is paramount, and each second saved during a pit stop can be the difference between winning and losing. Similarly, in the sphere of OT cybersecurity, minimizing the Mean Time to Repair (MTTR) is critical, especially when system vulnerabilities are discovered. Employing a Configuration Management Database (CMDB) for OT is akin to a pit crew having a detailed blueprint of every car part. With a CMDB, cybersecurity teams have a comprehensive overview of the infrastructure's assets, their current configurations, recent changes and their interdependencies.

For instance, consider a power distribution network where an anomaly is detected in the grid's control system. An accurate, up to date CMDB allows teams to quickly pinpoint the affected asset, understand its role within the broader system and identify the optimal method for remediation. By having immediate access to this information, OT professionals can swiftly apply necessary response with precision and a trusted restore point, akin to a pit crew efficiently changing tires or refueling a race car. This expedited response not only reduces downtime but also strengthens the resilience of the network against cyber threats, ensuring the reliability and safety of the power grid. 

Safety and Compliance: The Checkered Flag

Just as F1's comprehensive safety measures are vital in shielding drivers from harm and ensuring fair competition, cybersecurity in OT environments is integral to defending critical infrastructure and maintaining compliance with regulatory standards.  
For instance, in the energy sector, compliance with standards such as the North American Electric Reliability Corporation Critical Infrastructure Protection (NERC CIP Critical Infrastructure Protection) requires stringent cybersecurity measures. Configuration management is essential here, as it helps to ensure that all cybersecurity controls are correctly configured and operating effectively. This might involve the management of access controls, the encryption of sensitive data and the regular assessment of security systems to detect and mitigate vulnerabilities. By diligently applying cybersecurity hygiene rigor, secure protocols and maintaining robust configuration management practices, energy providers can ensure a resilient grid, protect against cyber threats and achieve the "checkered flag" of compliance and operational excellence, much like a race team secures a victorious finish through meticulous preparation and adherence to racing regulations.

The Finish Line: Continuous Improvement with a Cybersecurity Perspective

In F1, the drive for continuous improvement does not stop at the finish line; it extends into rigorous post-race analysis where teams scrutinize every detail to optimize future performance. This relentless pursuit of excellence is echoed in OT configuration management, where the integration of cybersecurity is vital. Consider an industrial control system that operates critical infrastructure. After an update or a new deployment, cybersecurity teams must continually assess the system's defenses against evolving threats. This might involve conducting vulnerability assessments, analyzing incident reports and updating security protocols to harden defenses.

For a logistics company, enhancing cybersecurity measures within route planning and fleet management systems can prevent data breaches that could disrupt operations and incur costs. Just as an F1 team tweaks every aspect of the car for marginal gains, OT teams iteratively refine their systems, not just for efficiency and cost savings, but also for robust security—racing towards the goal of operational resilience and integrity.

In summarizing the parallels between F1 and OT configuration management, we see that success in both arenas requires a mastery of complex, dynamic systems, where precision, agility and continuous improvement are not merely aspirational goals but necessities for survival and triumph. Just as F1 teams meticulously analyze every aspect of their races and cars to shave off milliseconds for the next event, OT professionals must employ every tool at their disposal, like Configuration Management Databases (CMDBs) and real-time telemetry, to safeguard and optimize their infrastructures against the ever-evolving landscape of cybersecurity threats.

To translate this into actionable recommendations for the OT cybersecurity domain: first, establish robust visibility across all IT and OT assets, ensuring that nothing operates without “eyes on it” and that all elements are accounted for in risk assessments and change management processes.

Next, invest in a data analysis tool to enable safe and swift responses to cyber threats, much like a pit crew's quick reactions during a race. Employ a CMDB for OT to minimize MTTR by acting as a trusted restore point. Moreover, maintain stringent compliance with regulatory standards, treating cybersecurity hygiene as the foundational element of safety and reliability.

And finally, adopt a culture of continuous improvement, where each cyber incident is a lesson and an opportunity to strengthen defenses, ensuring that the race towards cybersecurity excellence is an enduring commitment, not a finite goal.

By embracing these strategies, we can maintain operational continuity and integrity but also elevate our cybersecurity posture to achieve OT cybersecurity excellence. 

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About the Author

Edward Liebig is the Global Director Cyber Ecosystem in Hexagon’s Asset Lifecycle Intelligence division. His career spans over four decades, with over 30 of those years focused on cybersecurity. He has led as Chief Information Security Officer and cybersecurity captain for several multinational companies. He's also led Professional and Managed Security Services for the US critical infrastructure sector for two Global System Integrators. With this unique perspective Edward leads the Cybersecurity Alliances for Hexagon PAS Cyber Integrity. In this role he leverages his diverse experience to forge partnerships with service providers and technologies that drive collective strengths to best address our client’s security needs. Mr. Liebig is an adjunct professor at Washington University in St. Louis and teaches as part of the Master of Cybersecurity Management degree program.

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