Visibility in OT Cyber Security

In the immortal words of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see.” This renowned phrase carries a wealth of wisdom that transcends the boxing ring and finds relevance in the cyber realm, particularly when it comes to securing Operational Technology (OT) assets.

Just as Ali’s elusive style made him nearly impossible to hit, so too are invisible threats hard to tackle. In the realm of OT, the ability to ‘see’ is synonymous with visibility into the network, and the logic is simple – you can’t protect what you can’t see. Let’s paint a picture. Imagine you’re the commander of a fortress under the threat of invasion. Your ability to defend your fortress efficiently depends on your visibility of the entire fortress and its surroundings. You must know where your defences are strong, where they might be weak, and where an enemy could potentially breach. The same principle applies to OT environments.

Operational technology (OT) is a broad term that refers to the hardware and software used to monitor and control industrial processes. OT assets are the physical and digital components of OT systems, such as programmable logic controllers (PLCs), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, and human-machine interfaces (HMIs). OT assets are essential for the operation of critical infrastructure, such as power plants, water treatment facilities, and manufacturing plants.

Originally, OT systems were isolated from the outside world. However, due to the benefits of interconnectivity, the convergence of IT and OT began, introducing the inherent vulnerabilities of IT into the insecure-by-design OT. And just like that, it became an even more valuable resource, becoming juicy targets for malicious cyber actors. Without comprehensive visibility, it’s virtually impossible to understand the full extent of potential vulnerabilities, let alone anticipate and thwart cyber attacks.

There are a number of threats that can target OT systems. These include, but are definitely not limited to:

  • Malware: Malicious software, or malware, encompasses a variety of harmful programs designed to infiltrate and damage OT networks. This can include viruses, worms, and Trojans, each with their unique capabilities but all aiming to compromise system integrity, steal sensitive data, disrupt operations, or even cause physical harm to machinery and equipment. Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) groups often deploy sophisticated malware strains that can evade detection and persist in a network for extended periods.
  • Ransomware: This type of malware specifically targets an organisation’s data, encrypting it and rendering it inaccessible. The cybercriminals behind the attack then demand a ransom payment, usually in cryptocurrency, for the decryption key. Recent years have seen a sharp rise in ransomware attacks on OT networks, with potentially devastating consequences including halted production, financial losses, and reputational damage.
  • Physical attacks: These types of threats involve direct, physical harm to OT equipment or infrastructure. This could take the form of sabotage, vandalism, theft, or even an orchestrated attack aimed at disrupting operations. These attacks can cause significant downtime, costly equipment replacements, and pose a serious safety risk in environments where OT systems control critical infrastructure.
  • Insider Threats: These threats come from within the organisation itself. They could be intentional, such as a disgruntled employee seeking revenge, or unintentional, such as an employee unknowingly clicking on a malicious link. Regardless of intent, insider threats can lead to significant damage to OT networks.
  • Supply Chain Attacks: In these types of attacks, a malicious actor infiltrates your network through a vulnerable point in your supply chain. This could involve compromising a trusted third-party vendor’s security and using their access to target your OT networks. The 2020 SolarWinds attack is an example of such a sophisticated supply chain attack.

Benefits of Having Visibility

There are a number of benefits to having visibility into your network and assets. Some of the most important benefits include:

  • Identifying Vulnerabilities: In today’s interconnected digital landscape, each device, connection, and piece of software in your OT network could potentially present a vulnerability. Comprehensive visibility allows us to spot these weak points before they become entryways for attackers.
  • Understanding the Threat Landscape: The realm of cyber threats is in a constant state of evolution, with hackers continually creating new techniques, exploiting newfound vulnerabilities, and executing novel attacks. Adequate visibility into your OT environment is crucial to stay informed about these ever-changing trends.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Numerous regulatory authorities necessitate stringent network visibility. Without a clear understanding of your OT environment, achieving and maintaining regulatory compliance can become a challenging ordeal.
  • Incident Response: The efficiency and speed of response to a security incident depend heavily on the visibility of the OT environment. Without it, response teams might find themselves groping in the dark, which could delay action and potentially exacerbate the situation.

Challenges to Achieving Visibility

There are a number of challenges to achieving visibility in your organisation. Some of the most common challenges include:

  • Lack of Clarity: Many organisations struggle to maintain a clear, updated inventory of the devices in their OT network, the software running on these devices, and any existing vulnerabilities. This lack of clarity can obstruct the path to achieving comprehensive visibility.
  • Inadequate Monitoring: Traditional IT tools often do not suffice when it comes to monitoring OT environments. They may leave blind spots in the network and fail to detect subtle indicators of compromise.
  • Complex OT Environments: OT environments are typically composed of a mix of legacy and modern technologies, each with its own unique protocols and vulnerabilities. This complexity can make the task of achieving total visibility quite daunting.
  • Data Overload: Modern organisations generate a massive amount of data. The sheer volume can make it challenging to collect, analyse, and derive meaningful insights from this data, thereby hindering visibility.
  • Shadow IT: Many organisations face the issue of shadow IT — IT systems or solutions used without the knowledge or approval of the IT department. This lack of visibility and control over shadow IT can add another layer of complexity to achieving network visibility.

Ways to Improve OT Asset Visibility

To bolster visibility within an organisation’s OT network, several strategies can prove highly effective:

  • Install a SIEM Solution: Incorporating a Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solution into your cyber security strategy can be extremely beneficial. SIEM solutions are capable of collecting and analysing security logs from across your network, enabling you to identify potential threats and vulnerabilities more effectively.
  • Implement User and Entity Behaviour Analytics (UEBA): By leveraging UEBA, you can monitor user activity for any irregularities or suspicious patterns. This aids in detecting unauthorised access attempts or potential data exfiltration incidents.
  • Utilise Threat Intelligence Solutions: By staying informed about the latest threats and vulnerabilities through threat intelligence solutions, you can remain one step ahead of potential cyber threats, thereby proactively strengthening your defences.
  • Maintain a Comprehensive Asset Inventory: A detailed asset inventory ensures that you have a clear understanding of all the hardware and software assets on your OT network. This forms the basis for further risk assessment and mitigation strategies.
  • Segment Your OT Network: Network segmentation can isolate your OT network from other networks, thereby reducing the risk of cyber threats spreading across networks.
  • Deploy OT-specific Security Solutions: Utilising security solutions specifically designed for OT networks is critical. These solutions, such as those offered by OPSWAT, can help protect your OT network from various threats and enhance overall security.

OPSWAT MetaDefender: A Comprehensive Cyber Security Solution for OT

Featuring OPSWAT Neuralyzer

In the complex landscape of OT asset visibility, OPSWAT Neuralyzer emerges as a groundbreaking tool that combines advanced AI technologies with a deep understanding of OT environments. This solution is uniquely designed to address both traditional IT and specific Industrial Control System (ICS) threats, offering unparalleled visibility into integrated IT/OT operations.

Don’t be fooled by its name – OPSWAT Neuralyzer will not let out a bright light and make you forget. Instead, it’s a potent tool that brings the future of OT asset visibility to the present. IT stands out for its real-time, AI-based analytics engine that provides superior situational awareness of cyber threats throughout the network. Its smart discovery techniques enable a complete asset inventory without the burden of impacting OT networks and devices. With its ability to rapidly discover devices and build asset inventory, Neuralyzer visualises network topology and connectivity in real-time, thus creating an extensive overview of your network’s operations.

At its core, Neuralyzer is engineered with an easy-to-deploy and easy-to-use, OT-native user interface that requires no expert skillset or extensive training to operate. Its user-friendly design presents a detailed, comprehensive, and customisable dashboard that continuously monitors networks to detect threats and anomalies. As soon as it is deployed, Neuralyzer combines nonintrusive passive monitoring and selective smart probing to provide an extensive asset inventory.

Moreover, Neuralyzer integrates seamlessly with existing SIEM solutions. Data can be exported via syslog, to be consumed by your SIEM. This integration amplifies their capabilities and provides a holistic picture of your security landscape, assisting in identifying potential threats and anomalies while alerting you immediately whenever any security policies are violated.

The solution also comes with predefined policies that align with global, regional, and industry-specific regulatory requirements for OT cyber security, including NERC CIP, NIST, NIS Directive, NEI 8-09, and ISA/IEC 62443. Coupled with AI algorithms for defining comprehensive security policies automatically, these features proactively identify various vulnerabilities and threats, aiding in risk management and remediation.

Centralian Controls is proud to offer OPSWAT Neuralyzer as part of our commitment to providing cutting-edge solutions for OT cyber security. To learn more about how Neuralyzer can enhance your OT asset visibility, please feel free to contact us.

Know More


As we pull back the curtains on this enlightening exploration of OT asset visibility, it becomes increasingly clear how vital it is in the face of modern cyber threats. The interconnected world we live in presents both opportunities and challenges; while it brings about efficiency and optimisation, it also opens doors to potential cyberattacks. But fear not, for as we’ve seen, a robust strategy that enhances visibility can help you stay one step ahead of the game.

Embracing effective strategies, including installing SIEM solutions, employing UBA, utilising threat intelligence, maintaining comprehensive asset inventories, segmenting your OT network, and deploying specialised OT security solutions like OPSWAT’s offerings, can significantly improve your organisation’s cyber security posture. Among these, OPSWAT Neuralyzer stands out as a promising tool, utilising advanced AI technology to provide unparalleled visibility into your OT network – a real game-changer in the field.

However, remember that the journey towards complete OT asset visibility is not a sprint, but a marathon. It requires consistent efforts, up-to-date knowledge, and continuous adaptation to evolving threats. It’s akin to becoming a vigilant guardian of your organisation’s OT assets, always on high alert and prepared to counter any threats that dare to intrude.

In conclusion, as the great Sun Tzu once said, ‘Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.’ OT asset visibility is a significant part of knowing ourselves and our enemies in the cyber realm. With the right strategies and tools like OPSWAT Neuralyzer, we have a tool to not just parry, but counter as well. So, let’s step into the ring, roll up our sleeves, and get ready to rumble.

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