Why securing OT ICS Systems is critical ?

Why securing OT ICS Systems is critical ?

Explore 10 essential steps for effectively securing ICS/OT systems, addressing their unique challenges in this detailed guide. Read now !


In an era where digital transformation is no longer a luxury but a necessity, industrial companies across all sectors are deploying digitalization initiatives, ranging from data enablement, resource optimization to digital security. This article tackles different path to reinforce the cybersecurity of industrial and critical infrastructure environments.

What are OT ICS systems ?

What is OT ?

OT stands for operational technology and is define by Tech Target as following “Operational technology (OT) is a category of hardware and software that monitors and controls how physical devices perform.”

In this more detailed OT definition by NIST, OT are “Programmable systems or devices that interact with the physical environment (or manage devices that interact with the physical environment). These systems/devices detect or cause a direct change through the monitoring and/or control of devices, processes, and events. Examples include industrial control systems, building management systems, fire control systems, and physical access control mechanisms.”

What is ICS systems ?

ICS stands for Industrial Control System and is define as following by TechTarget : “In manufacturing, industrial control system is a general term used to describe the integration of hardware and software with network connectivity in order to support critical infrastructure. ICS technologies include supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and distributed control systems (DCS), industrial automation and control systems (IACS), programmable logic controllers (PLCs), programmable automation controllers (PACs), remote terminal units (RTUs), control servers, intelligent electronic devices (IEDs) and sensors.”

Thus, ICS is specifically the part of OT that deals with the control and automation of industrial processes. While OT broadly covers all technologies used in industrial environments (including ICS), ICS focuses on systems that directly control physical processes.

IT/OT convergence

The digitization of industrial sites leads to an increasing interconnection between IT and OT systems. Connecting these systems unlock increased efficiency of the business and leaner industrial operations. A great example of this convergence can be seen in the benefits of connecting an ERP to production systems to streamline operations. This ERP can now utilize historian data, thereby enhancing the efficiency of production processes, decision-making, and financial models.

However, this OT/IT connectivity carries security risks, with more assets being connected, internally and potentially to the outside world. This make the attack surface way biger. Therefore, ensuring a clear network segmentation is a fantastic solution, but can be difficult to implement and maintain. Furthermore, IT/OT convergence requires a readjustment of responsibilities and a new approach in the management of assets and initiatives. Who owns IT assets in OT environments? What process do we use to identify OT threats and are the same than IT ones?

Securely tackling the potentials of IT/OT convergence are among the biggest challenges of industrial companies in 2024.

OT ICS Security in the age of Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 marks a crucial evolution in the industrial landscape, characterized by the advanced integration of innovative digital technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), big data, and computing systems. These technologies revolutionize industrial processes, promoting extensive automation, optimized efficiency, and increased customization of production. An interesting example is the IT/OT convergence, which enables real-time communication between machines in a factory, paving the way for more precise and proactive operation management.

However, this extensive interconnection and growing dependence on digital technologies raise significant cybersecurity challenges, particularly for the protection of OT & ICS systems. Indeed, the integration of connected devices multiplies potential entry points for cyber attackers, while the convergence of IT and OT systems exposes traditionally isolated OT systems and critical infrastructure to common IT threats.

Thus, the increasing complexity of these modern systems complicates the detection and management of vulnerabilities, especially in industrial environments that often incorporate legacy systems, designed without consideration for current threats, but which are now interconnected to wider networks. Understanding and anticipating these specific threats to OT/ICS systems is essential for developing effective and resilient strategies.

Top 10 key cybersecurity threats and challenges specifically faced by OT ICS systems

1 - Old Systems

Many OT ICS environments rely on older systems that may not have been designed with modern cybersecurity threats in mind. This makes them particularly vulnerable to attacks and therefore increse the attack surface.

2 - Limited Visibility

In many OT ICS setups, there's a lack of comprehensive visibility into the network, making it difficult to detect anomalies or intrusions.

3 - Unpatched or out-of-date systems

Keeping systems updated is a challenge in OT ICS environments. Unpatched or outdated systems are more susceptible to known vulnerabilities and exploits.

4 - Integrating ICS and IT systems

As OT and IT systems become more integrated, we can talk about OT/IT Convergence, vulnerabilities in one can affect the other. This integration complicates the cybersecurity landscape.

5 - Making the business case for ICS security

Convincing stakeholders of the need for adequate investment in ICS security can be difficult, often due to a lack of understanding of the risks and potential impacts.

6 - Malware

Malicious software specifically designed to target OT and ICS systems can cause significant disruptions and damage.

7 - Persistent and enduring threats

OT ICS systems face threats not just from opportunistic attacks but also from sophisticated, persistent threat actors who are often state-sponsored.

8 - IT and ICS lateral attacks

Attackers can move laterally between IT and ICS systems, exploiting vulnerabilities in one to affect the other.

9 - Activating extended update mode

Delaying updates to avoid operational disruptions can leave systems vulnerable for extended periods.

10 - Default credentials and configurations

Many ICS systems are deployed with default credentials and configurations, which are easily exploitable by attackers if not properly changed and secured.

Example of OT Cyberattacks

Given the complex challenge of safeguarding Industrial Control Systems and Operational Technology networks, numerous companies frequently fall prey to cyber threats. In the year 2022, 64% of industrial firms reported experiencing cyber incursions. These attacks resulted in considerable interruptions to their industrial processes and energy distribution, exemplifying the following critical incidents:

CHU de Brest (March 9, 2023):

A phishing campaign led to a serious cyberattack at CHU de Brest hospital. Hackers attempted to infiltrate the network and exfiltrate sensitive databases. However, due to the hospital's prompt response, the breach and system encryption were successfully averted. The disruption lasted two weeks, affecting vital operations like email communication, data sharing, and external database access.

DP World Australia Cyberattack (November 10, 2023):

DP World Australia, a pivotal port operator responsible for managing 40% of Australia's maritime freight, faced a severe cyberattack on November 10, 2023. This sophisticated cyber incident led to an immediate suspension of operations at key ports in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Fremantle. Although incoming ships could unload, the attack hindered the outbound movement of freight, creating significant logistical challenges. The Australian government recognized the severity of the situation, describing it as "serious and ongoing", and actively coordinated a national response.

Irish Water Utility (December 09, 2023):

A cyberattack on a small Irish water utility on December 9, 2023, disrupted water supply for two days, impacting 180 residents in Binghamstown and Drum. Reported by Western People, hackers targeted the utility's Eurotronics water pumping system, displaying an anti-Israel message. The attack is linked to the broader Israel-Hamas conflict.

Experts suggest that the attack exploited weak security in the utility's control system, likely through internet-exposed, poorly protected programmable logic controllers (PLCs) or human-machine interfaces (HMIs). This method resembles attacks by the Cyber Av3ngers group, known for similar assaults in the U.S., though their direct involvement in the Irish attack is unconfirmed. The incident raises concerns about the vulnerability of critical infrastructure to politically motivated cyberattacks.

How to secure OT ICS systems ?

Protect your ICS / OT with Trout Software's specialized 10-point cybersecurity strategy. Crafted to address unique OT vulnerabilities, our approach strengthens your cybersecurity framework, offering robust protection with limited resources. Download our white paper below for detailed implementation processes for each key point.

Here's an overview:


Step 1: Risk Assessment

Conduct a thorough OT security assessment of potential vulnerabilities and threats to understand and prioritize the risks to your OT/ICS systems.

Step 2: Network Segmentation

Divide your network into separate segments (we talk often about OT micro-segmentation) to limit the spread of cyber threats and make it easier to isolate and contain any breaches.

Step 3: Access Control

Implement strict access controls to ensure that only authorized personnel have access to critical systems and information.

Step 4: Regular Software Updates and Patch Management

Keep all operational technology systems up-to-date with the latest software patches and updates to protect against known vulnerabilities.

Step 5: Employee Training and Awareness

Educate employees about cybersecurity best practices and the specific threats to OT/ICS systems to enhance overall security posture.

Step 6: Implementing Firewalls and IDS/IPS Systems

Deploy firewalls and Intrusion Detection/Prevention Systems (IDS/IPS) to monitor and protect your network from malicious activities.

Step 7: Data Encryption

Protect sensitive data by encrypting it, both in transit and at rest, to prevent unauthorized access or tampering.

Step 8: Backup and Disaster Recovery Planning

Develop and regularly update a robust backup and disaster recovery plan to ensure business continuity in the event of a cyberattack.

Having a dedicated OT incident response planning is also crucial in order to always be prepared to defend your company against a potential attack. 

Step 9: Continuous Monitoring

Constantly monitor network activity and system performance to quickly detect and respond to any suspicious activities or anomalies, that could be done effectively with security solution like Trout software.

Step 10: Regular Security Audits

Conduct regular security audits to identify and address any weaknesses in your cybersecurity strategy and ensure to be compliant with industry standards.

These audits should be perform internally but also by security professionals in order to have an external points of views and some additionnals recommandations.

Leveraging the cybersecurity standards to protect your OT ICS Systems

To enhance the security of OT and ICS, it's crucial to leverage established OT cybersecurity standards. These standards provide a framework for implementing robust security measures, ensuring that your systems are safeguarded against a wide array of cyber threats. By adhering to these standards, you can systematically address the unique vulnerabilities of OT/ICS environments, aligning with best practices in the industry for threat prevention, detection, and response. This approach not only enhances the security of your systems but also ensures compliance with regulatory requirements, fostering trust and reliability in your industrial operations.

Our 10-point method takes into account numerous standards such as :

You can find a full list of the main OT standards in our blog post “OT Compliance

About Trout Software

Trout Software has developed tools to enable business and IT teams to strengthen the cybersecurity of their environments - both IT and OT - and to accelerate their certification processes (documenting security policies and collecting evidence). The company is based in France with offices in Dublin and New York, and works with customers such as Thales, Orange and Signal Iduna.

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