The Important Role of NDR in Maintaining OT Networks


April 20, 2023Hacker NewsOT and ICS security

Maintain OT Network

Why is Visibility into the OT Environment Important?

The importance of Operational Technology (OT) for business is undeniable as the OT sector is developing along with the already developing IT sector. OT includes industrial control systems, manufacturing equipment, and devices that monitor and manage industrial environments and critical infrastructure. In recent years, adversaries have realized the lack of detection and protection in many industrial systems and are actively exploiting these vulnerabilities. In response, IT security leaders are becoming more aware of the need to protect their OT environments with security monitoring and response capabilities. This development was accelerated by past severe cyber incidents that targeted critical OT environments and even caused physical damage to infrastructure. Given the critical role these systems play in modern business and society operations, ensuring their security is of the utmost importance.

The underlying trend is clear: OT and IoT networks are increasingly integrated with traditional IT networks for management and access purposes, leading to improved communication between these devices both internally and externally. This affects not only the network itself but also has significant consequences for the security team responsible for maintaining the environment. While this convergence of OT and IT offers many benefits, such as increased efficiency and reduced operational costs, it also poses new security risks and challenges, making the OT environment more vulnerable to cyberthreats. As proven by past attacks, these threats often go undetected due to inadequate security monitoring, allowing threat actors to remain undetected for a long time. As a result, achieving holistic visibility and effective anomaly detection in an OT environment is critical to maintaining robust security and control.

What Challenges Arise in Monitoring the OT Environment?

First and foremost, understanding the unique threat landscape of the OT environment is critical. Traditional IT security detection methods fall short in this context, as they require different sensitivity thresholds and finer monitoring of network segments or device groups, as well as PL-specific detection mechanisms. Unlike IT attacks which focus on data theft, OT attacks are usually aimed at physical impact. Moreover, as recent examples show, ransomware in the context of OT is on the rise and directly affects the availability of control and security systems.

Second, PL environmental monitoring requires consideration of multiple aspects, such as supplier access management, device management, and network communications. Controlling and supervising supplier access to OT and IoT networks is a challenge, as connections between external and internal networks can occur through various means such as VPN, direct mobile connections and host jumps. Another hurdle is device management, which includes update mechanisms and protection against unauthorized access or manipulation. Implementing regular update routines and implementing Endpoint Detection & Response (EDR) on OT and IoT devices is often limited or not possible. The variety of devices, their lifetimes, and device-specific operating systems make deploying security software to monitor OT devices difficult and impractical.

Third, traditional IT network detection methods require deep protocol knowledge, which, in the software context, covers a wide variety of protocols and attack scenarios that are not present in traditional rule sets. OT network devices connect IoT sensors and machines using communication protocols that are not common in traditional IT networks. In terms of more intrusive security solutions, active vulnerability scanning methods can also pose a problem in OT environments, as they can cause interruptions or even power outages. The same is true for Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS) as they can block network packets, impacting stability and business continuity in OT environments. As a result, passive network detection systems such as Network Detection & Response (NDR) solution is more suitable for this purpose.

How Can I Monitor and Secure My OT Environment Effectively?

While secure access management and device lifecycle management are critical, their seamless deployment can be challenging. In this context, Network Detection and Response (NDR) solutions offer a non-intrusive and effective approach to monitoring PL environments. By focusing on communication patterns for OT devices, intersections between IT and OT, and third-party access to OT networks, NDR systems provide comprehensive detection and visibility capabilities without disrupting industrial operations and business processes.

In particular, NDR solutions with advanced underlying capabilities excel at identifying new and unusual communication patterns that may indicate malicious activity in OT networks. Leveraging flow information for baselines, these NDR systems provide protocol and device independent anomaly detection by learning who is communicating with whom and on what frequency. Instead of manually configuring these parameters, NDR studies the baseline and notifies the security team of any unusual requests or changes in frequency. In addition, a flexible use case framework allows for the setting of customized thresholds for PL-specific monitoring, including the ability to set load monitoring with network zone-specific breakdown. In addition, the use of Machine Learning algorithms allows for more accurate detection of anomalies and potential threats compared to traditional rule-based systems.

As a result, the passive monitoring capabilities of NDR solutions are critical for OT and IoT environments, where alternative monitoring methods may be difficult to implement or cause disruption. ExeonTrace, a powerful and easy-to-deploy ML-based NDR system for OT environments, analyzes log data from traditional IT environments, OT networks, and jump host gateways, to provide a comprehensive and holistic view of network activity. There, flexibility in integrating multiple third-party log sources, such as OT-only logs, is critical. In addition, ExeonTrace’s ability to integrate with other OT-specific detection platforms enhances its capabilities and ensures a wide range of security coverage.

Maintain OT Network
ExeonTrace Platform: OT Network Visibility

In short, NDR solutions such as ExeonTrace effectively address different OT monitoring challenges, establishing the Swiss NDR system as the preferred detection approach for protecting OT environments. By implementing an ML-based NDR system such as ExeonTrace, organizations can reliably monitor and secure their industrial operations, ensuring business continuity through an automated, efficient and hardware-free approach. Find out if ExeonTrace is the ideal solution for your business and request a demo today.

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