Operational Technology (OT), Information Technology (IT), Internet of Things (IoT), and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are terms that have become increasingly prevalent in today's technology-driven world. Each of these concepts plays a vital role in shaping our digital landscape and evolving industries.
In this blog post, we will explore the differences between the terms and how their convergence poses unique challenges for cybersecurity.
What is Operational Technology?
We should, first and foremost define what operational technology (OT) entails, so everything below makes sense.
OT is a tool that keeps vital infrastructures and industrial environments up and running. It consists of both hardware and software which is used to secure, handle and check industrial control systems (ICS), different devices and the processes in your OT ecosystem.
You typically find OT in the industrial field such as manufacturing, transportation, gas and oil, and labors like electricity and other utility industries.
- So, OT is in short, the technology - hardware and software - that are used to control and manage industrial equipment. It’s primarily concerned with the physical world compared to many other aspects of cybersecurity.
OT vs. IT: Understanding the differences
OT and IT have different functions and deal with different facets of technology management. Manufacturing, energy, and critical infrastructure sectors are all common places where you can find OT, which deals with integrating with the physical environment.
As mentioned, it deals with ICS, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, and other devices that regulate industrial operations.
IT, on the other hand, deals with information technology. It’s e.g. telecommunication and service providers, that focuses on data systems, corporate problem-solving, and end-user needs.
Information technology (IT) is the development, processing, storage, secure transfer, and exchange of all kinds of electronic data. IT includes the use of computers, networking, storage, and other physical devices.
IoT and IIoT: Connecting the physical world
A pioneering idea known as the Internet of Things (IoT) includes connecting everyday physical objects to the internet. They can be anything from commonplace items like lightbulbs to hospital equipment, wearable technology, smart technology, and even entire smart cities. IoT-enabled gadgets are wirelessly linked to IT networks and frequently send data and operate with very little input from humans - which is why it can have great consequences if IoT is compromised.
A subset of IoT called IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) refers to linked devices utilized in industrial contexts including manufacturing and the energy sector. IIoT increases production and efficiency by giving industrial machines the ability to automate and self-monitor.
- It has a close relationship to OT and is essential to Industry 4.0, which includes big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and machine-to-machine communication in industrial programs.
The development of "edge computing," where computing resources are placed closer to the data source or the end user - opposed to in cloud computing - has encouraged the integration between OT and IT. As a result, OT networks can access and maintain software that was previously only available to IT teams.
Therefore, organizations can integrate different data systems, opening up new opportunities for increasing efficiency with tools like AI and machine learning in production and predictive maintenance.
OT and cybersecurity
OT systems are faced with more cybersecurity issues as they are increasingly integrated into IT networks. In the past, OT security prioritized machine functionality and physical security, whereas IT security prioritized data privacy.
The combination of OT and IT, however, creates the possibility of cyber attacks. OT devices that were once used independently are now linked to servers, cloud services, and IT networks, leaving them vulnerable to malware and ransomware attacks.
A multilayered, structured defense strategy for cybersecurity is essential to protect industrial systems and critical infrastructure. The implementation of several security measures throughout the infrastructure and software systems is the key component of an improved cyber security.
To mitigate the risk of cyberattacks, security measures should include reasonable security measures in OT systems as well and not just in IT systems. Early, automated integration of cybersecurity controls increases the effectiveness of detection and retaliation of threats.
IT and OT infrastructures can collaborate on a similar foundation thanks to hybrid cloud storage and structures. OT environments can be integrated with public or private cloud infrastructures in a hybrid cloud framework, which thus offers flexibility and compatibility. As a result, IT and OT teams are able to manage a wide range of linked equipment with real-time feedback and consistency over a single control plane.
The integration of OT, IT, IoT, and IIoT will have an impact on the future of several industries as technology advances. Although the integration of these systems has many advantages, it also creates new cybersecurity challenges that require particular attention.
Businesses can protect their infrastructure from cyber threats and utilize the connectivity that these systems give us. Implementing edge computing and hybrid cloud technologies can boost productivity and promote innovation in both the OT and IT industries.
If we pay attention to the evolving cyber landscape, we’ll stand stronger against any potential threat. Cyberattacks have a bigger impact than most think, but if e.g. the equipment that farmers use for their jobs are compromised, it affects thousands of people.
Caroline is a copywriter here at Moxso beside her education. She is doing her Master's in English and specializes in translation and the psychology of language. Both fields deal with communication between people and how to create a common understanding - these elements are incorporated into the copywriting work she does here at Moxso.View all posts by Caroline Preisler