OT Security Must Mature As Industrial Sector Takes Centre Stage


The region’s efforts to diversify its economies are back on track. Shrugging off the dampening effects of the pandemic, government entities are more laser-focused than ever on the industrial sector.

From Kuwait and Oman’s energy sector driving economic recovery to non-oil sector expansion by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the vast enhancements, migrations to the cloud, and implementation of IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) continue to be spurred by digital transformation.

These advancements have been emphasised in the economic forecast report for Q2, as the Middle East and Africa region is witnessing an increase in the overall GDP growth from the previous year across industries. This has called for organisations to strengthen innovation environments by accelerating the adoption of advanced technologies and strategies across the industrial value chain.

While this is great news for the industry, caution is called for. Enterprises such as manufacturing firms, utilities, and oil and gas companies must lean heavily on operational technology (OT) and industrial control systems (ICS) to optimise and transform. In a recent survey of 900 ICS cybersecurity leads in these segments globally, Trend Micro found that almost nine in 10 (89 per cent) had experienced cyberattacks in the past year that impacted production and energy supply. A further 72 per cent experienced disruption to their ICS/OT environments at least six times, and 40 per cent could not block the initial attack.

Trend Micro’s The State of Industrial Cybersecurity report shows that enterprises in the industrial sector are not well equipped to handle the current threat landscape. In the region, business leaders know how threat actors can create mayhem in OT environments. From the region’s leading oil & gas and energy organisations in 2012 to the more recent US Colonial Pipeline. Cybercriminals have shown their willingness to target OT as well as IT.

Knowing the dangers, however, does not guarantee a substantive change in security posture. For most industrial firms in the region, it can be challenging to acquire the skills to grasp the proprietary nature of OT. Companies need seasoned professionals who understand the intricacies of ICS setups and can formulate incident response plans (IRPs) that make sense for the individual business model.

For most organisations, accessing such skills means onboarding a partner that understands how to manage heavily networked IT and OT environments. Even then, performing due diligence on such partners is critical. The OT security space suffers from unbalanced skill sets. Either an engineer without enough security experience is put in charge, or a security professional takes the reins when they have insufficient engineering experience. The ideal partner will be strong in both backgrounds and have enough experience in the business challenges of industrial environments to add genuine value.

Also highlighted in the report, respondents cited future investments in cloud systems (28 per cent) and private 5G deployments (26 per cent) as top drivers of cybersecurity, given the relationship these technologies have with innovation. These decisions have also been prompted by the recent figures highlighted in the Annual Cybersecurity Report for 2021. Across the MENA region alone, Trend Micro solutions have detected and blocked over 436 million email threats. With access to networks increasingly vulnerable, systems were protected from over 80 million URL-victim attacks and over 20.5 million malware threats.

To combat the evolving threat landscape, organisations must adopt robust multilayered security solutions that leverage the power of XDR (Extended Detection and Response) to protect all endpoints. Furthermore, strengthen operations by providing complete visibility into OT threats via IT and CT (5G) with risk insights, in-depth investigations, and the ability to detect and respond better and faster across the entire environment. The industrial sector is critical to the region’s overall development, and safeguarding its potential can lead to transformative economic growth in the coming days.

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