Securing IT-OT Converged Infrastructure By Saurabh Sharma, SMIEEE, FIE, CEH, Chief Manager (BIS) & CISO, Petronet LNG Ltd.

Securing IT-OT Converged Infrastructure

Saurabh Sharma, SMIEEE, FIE, CEH, Chief Manager (BIS) & CISO, Petronet LNG Ltd. | Thursday, 09 November 2023, 04:48 IST

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Saurabh Sharma, a seasoned IT professional with over 15 years of expertise in Infrastructure Management and SAP Implementation. In an interaction with CIOTechoutlook magazine, Saurabh emphasizes crucial measures for IT-OT network integration, data integrity, network security, and vulnerability management.

How does the integrity of data and systems can be ensured when integrating IT and OT networks, and what measures are in place to prevent unauthorized access?

In the Energy and Utilities sector, the convergence of IT and OT networks is vital for efficient operations, but maintaining data and system integrity is crucial. To achieve this, it's essential to physically or logically separate IT and OT systems using measures like firewalls and VLANs to minimize the attack surface. The deployment of Data Diodes is a global trend to enhance security.

Reducing interface points between IT and OT networks and implementing strict physical access controls with surveillance are imperative steps. OT systems often use proprietary protocols, and connectors for IT integration must prioritize security for smooth and secure communication.

To ensure data integrity, encryption should be employed for data in transit and at rest. Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) should be implemented to restrict individuals' access to only necessary resources, and Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) should be used to prevent unauthorized access to critical systems and data.

What strategies can enterprises adopt to safeguard critical industrial control systems (ICS) and IoT devices within the converged infrastructure from cyber threats?

Traditionally in the energy sector, Operational Technology (OT) systems were kept isolated from Information Technology (IT) systems to prevent cyber threats. However, as the industry moves toward Industry 5.0, the integration of OT networks with IT networks becomes essential for real-time monitoring and production trend analysis. In this converged infrastructure, OT networks become vulnerable to cyber threats.

To protect Industrial Control Systems (ICS) and IoT devices, several measures should be taken. First, network segmentation between IT and ICS networks is crucial. Next-generation firewalls and intrusion detection systems (IDS-IPS) can secure the network perimeter, and AI-based anomaly detection systems can be implemented. Firewall policies must be carefully configured to restrict default access for devices and users.

Adopting a Zero Trust Security approach ensures that access is not automatically granted to users or IoT devices. Instead, access is based on continuous verification of identity and security postures. Third-party devices and systems, like IoT sensors, should be assessed for security before integration, and physical access to critical ICS and IoT components must be secured.

Strong device management practices, regular security assessments, and cybersecurity awareness training for employees are essential. Finally, security measures should be periodically reviewed and updated to adapt to evolving threats and technologies. In the oil and gas sector, ensuring the security of the entire supply chain, from component manufacturers to system integrators, is vital to prevent compromised devices or software from being introduced.

In the context of IT-OT convergence, how do organizations plan for handling the identification and monitoring of potential vulnerabilities, and what proactive steps are taken to address them?

To enhance cybersecurity in organizations, several key steps should be taken. First, maintaining a comprehensive inventory of all IT and OT assets, categorizing them by criticality and function, is crucial. This visibility is the foundation for securing these assets effectively. Regular vulnerability assessments and scans, encompassing both hardware and software components, are essential. These assessments should be performed by CERT-IN empaneled agencies to ensure their credibility. Conducting periodic penetration testing to simulate real-world attacks is also vital to assess the resilience of the integrated infrastructure.

In many sectors, such as the Oil & Gas industry, the collaboration between the instrumentation team handling ICS and the IT team is often lacking. Encouraging regular communication and information sharing between these teams is imperative to identify vulnerabilities and respond to security incidents effectively. Timely application of security patches and updates is vital, even in critical OT systems, as it can prevent major cyber-attacks. Prioritizing patches based on severity and asset criticality can help in this process.

Finally, implementing and enforcing security baselines and best practices for configuring IT and OT devices and systems can significantly reduce the attack surface, making the organization more resilient to cyber threats. In summary, a proactive and collaborative approach to cybersecurity is necessary to safeguard critical assets and infrastructure.

Given the increasing use of cloud technologies in converged infrastructure, what methods and tools are in place to protect sensitive data and applications hosted in the cloud environment?

The Indian oil and gas sector, particularly Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs), has been cautious about adopting cloud technology due to security concerns. However, global cloud adoption is increasing. To ensure security in the cloud environment, robust measures are necessary. Major cloud service providers offer data encryption services to protect data at rest and in transit, with the option for tenants to manage their encryption keys. Implementing strong identity and access management policies through tools like AWS IAM, Azure Active Directory, and Google Cloud IAM is crucial for resource access control.

Enhanced security measures include the enforcement of multi-factor authentication (MFA) to prevent unauthorized access. To safeguard against unauthorized data transfer in the cloud, organizations can use Data Loss Prevention (DLP) and Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) solutions. Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) tools aid in continuous security configuration assessment and compliance management. For containerized applications, security solutions such as Docker Security Scanning, Kubernetes network policies, and runtime protection tools are recommended.

In a cyberbreach affecting critical systems, what's your top priority to minimize disruption?

If a cyber incident happened, the first and foremost action would be to isolate the affected system, or network segments to prevent further propagation of the attack. Disconnect all the interfaces/connections/devices from affected system or network. Disconnect IT and OT network system. Immediately activate your incident response plan to coordinate the organization's response. Inform CERT-In about the incident as per government directive and follow their instructions.

My focus will be on restoring critical systems to normal operations while preserving the forensic evidence as it may required for further investigating in source of attack and it is required for insurance claim.

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Securing IT-OT Converged Infrastructure

By Saurabh Sharma, SMIEEE, FIE, CEH, Chief Manager (BIS) & CISO, Petronet LNG Ltd.