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Unveiling the Hidden: The Crucial Role of OT Asset Discovery in Cybersecurity

Operational technology (OT) assets refer to the hardware and software components that are utilized in industrial control systems (ICS) and other operational environments. Unlike information technology (IT), which focuses on managing and processing data for business purposes, OT is specifically concerned with the control and monitoring of physical processes and devices in industries such as manufacturing, energy, utilities, transportation and more.  

Securing operational technology environments has become increasingly important due to several factors: 
- Digital transformation 
- Increased connectivity 
- Cybersecurity threats 
-  Legacy systems 
- Regulatory compliance 
- Supply chain vulnerabilities 
- Economic impacts 
Operational technology asset discovery plays a crucial role in cybersecurity, especially in the context of industrial and critical infrastructure systems. Here are some key reasons why OT asset discovery is significant in cybersecurity: 
Visibility and Inventory Management 

Asset discovery provides visibility into the OT environment, helping organizations create an accurate inventory of all connected devices, systems and equipment. This is essential for understanding the attack surface and managing assets effectively. 
Risk Assessment 

Knowing what devices are present in the OT network allows security teams to conduct thorough risk assessments. By understanding the vulnerabilities associated with specific assets, organizations can prioritize security measures and allocate resources more effectively. 
Vulnerability Management 

Regular OT asset discovery enables organizations to identify and assess vulnerabilities in their industrial control systems (ICS) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. This information is crucial for timely patching and mitigation of potential security risks. 
Incident Response 

In the event of a cybersecurity incident or breach, having a comprehensive understanding of the OT assets helps to secure a swift and targeted incident response. Security teams can isolate affected systems, contain the breach and minimize the impact on critical operations. 
Compliance and Regulation 

Many industries are subject to regulatory requirements and standards related to cybersecurity. Accurate OT asset discovery assists organizations in meeting compliance obligations by demonstrating a proactive approach to security and risk management. 
Network Segmentation 

Knowing the composition of the OT network aids in designing and implementing effective network segmentation strategies. Segmentation can limit the lateral movement of attackers, reducing the likelihood of widespread damage in the case of a security incident. 
Anomaly Detection 

Understanding the normal behavior of OT assets allows for the detection of anomalies and suspicious activities. Real-time monitoring and analysis of asset behavior enable early detection of potential security threats and abnormal patterns that may indicate a cyber-attack. 
Supply Chain Security 

Asset discovery is crucial for securing the supply chain in OT environments. It helps organizations identify and assess the security posture of third-party devices and components connected to the industrial network, reducing the risk of a compromise throughout the supply chain. 
Continuous Monitoring 

OT asset discovery is not a one-time activity; it should be conducted regularly for continuous monitoring of the industrial network. This ensures that any changes or additions to the OT environment are promptly identified and assessed for security implications. 
In summary, OT asset discovery is a foundational component of a robust cybersecurity strategy for critical infrastructure and industrial systems. It provides the necessary insights for proactive risk management, incident response, compliance adherence and overall resilience against cyber threats targeting operational technology. 

About the Author

Syed M. Belal is Director of Cybersecurity Consulting for Hexagon’s Asset Lifecyle Intelligence division. Syed has more than 15 years of experience in industrial control systems and operational technology spanning industrial automation, SCADA, control, and safety systems applications used in critical infrastructure. He holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and minor in Computer Engineering from the American University of Sharjah in the UAE and an M.B.A. in Business Strategy from the University of Strathclyde in the United Kingdom as well as many industry certifications, including CISSP®, CISA®, and CISM®.

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