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Why the IT-OT Convergence is all about knowledge sharing

After attending the fifth Cyber and SCADA Security for Oil & Gas Industry conference, it became apparent lots of companies are having a hard time with the mingling of IT staff in the OT/ICS environments; the so-called IT-OT Convergence.

My personal opinion is that the involvement of the IT people in OT environments is a very positive thing, as both typically have their strong points:
– IT environments often have a broader experience of assessing cyber threats and their associated attack vectors as they have long left the ideology where they could protect all information systems by merely ensuring the physical security of the building they are placed in.
– Both IT and OT face increasing numbers of targeted attacks towards their environments, like Zeus, NotPetya, Trisis, BlackEnergy…
– Lots of IT-targeted attacks created collateral damage in the OT environments due to the type of malware and their attack vectors (e.g. the numerous ransomware attacks that were seen on SCADA and ICS systems, which were spread by infected USB devices or just because the system had direct internet access).
– OT people often have far more experience in risk and safety analysis, as they have been doing it for the better part of a century.

When combining these strong points, we might just create an acceleration in the ever-so-slow development cycle of the OT environments. However, we must also keep a few important things in mind:
– OT and IT have very different goals regarding what they want to protect from cyber-attacks. IT is typically all about confidentiality and privacy, where the OT environment is all about (personal) safety, reliability and availability.
– Some technologies in IT seem like a good fit for particular problems within OT, but they might break more than they fix. OT environments often contain legacy systems dating from the eighties or even before, using proprietary protocols and might even be retrofitted to be able to communicate over IP networks. Some automated network scans could e.g. break an older RTU by just trying to ping it.

With OT environments undergoing a skill drain, there are important challenges ahead that might require innovative approaches and efficiency gains.

I would strongly advise to keep putting the IT people in OT environments and vice versa, but solely to act as advisors to one another. Both have years or even decades of experience in their respective areas and now that they are facing similar challenges, time has come to join forces and go for a safer tomorrow!

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