SOAR and SOC insights
- Bringing SOAR and SOC standards to OT systems is critical as industrial cyberattacks increase in frequency and severity over time.
- SOAR processes operate seamlessly in the background once established and ensure that automated responses can limit the breadth and depth of any intrusion, without slowing down or inhibiting production.
- SOAR practices in OT settings combine automation, orchestration and human expertise with a SOC to enhance threat detection, response and recovery, while safeguarding critical industrial processes and infrastructure from cyber threats.
- OAR also allows organizations to handle the growing volume and complexity of threats more effectively, scaling as needed.
In the realm of operational technology (OT), things that are standard to information technology (IT) — such as cybersecurity security orchestration, automation and response (SOAR) processes and security operations centers (SOC) — are less prevalent. Bringing SOAR and SOC standards to OT systems is critical as industrial cyberattacks increase in frequency and severity over time.
SOAR refers to a comprehensive approach that combines automation, orchestration and incident response to enhance the efficiency of cybersecurity operations. It enables quick detection and automated responses to threats in industrial systems, minimizing downtime and risks. Meanwhile, SOC represents a dedicated facility or team responsible for monitoring and managing an organization’s cybersecurity posture. In OT, a SOC focuses on safeguarding critical infrastructure and industrial processes from cyber threats. It utilizes tools, technologies and expert analysts to detect and respond to anomalies, vulnerabilities and attacks. SOAR processes and a live 24/7 SOC bolster OT environments’ resilience against evolving cyber risks.
The unique challenges of OT cybersecurity
OT cyberattacks simply have more risks than many IT system attacks. Though OT can be subjected to ransomware attacks that lock down or wipe systems, or data theft, malicious actors in OT systems can also manipulate automation control systems, causing equipment damage, spurring environmental disasters or endangering lives. Stolen data can compromise proprietary designs, trade secrets and other sensitive process information. The fallout extends beyond stopped production, economic losses, regulatory fines and reputational damage to actual risks of injury or death. Recovery from even minor OT cyberattacks can be time-consuming and costly without the proper processes in place.
Common “just-in-time” (JIT) production processes designed to minimize costs were exposed as high-risk during the logistics challenges of the 2020 pandemic, despite the marginal daily operational savings they offer. The very real risk of production being stopped completely with any logistics stoppage while operating with JIT supplier schedules is being reevaluated by manufacturers and compared to the value of the marginal cost savings. Similarly, common OT practices used to maximize uptime may offer marginal increases in productivity over time but can significantly increase risk.
Since the teams setting up and operating OT equipment have historically been measured on maximizing production uptime, a common workaround of reducing the security “blockers” on plant floor equipment increased production agility and ensured maximum uptime. Programmable logic controllers (PLCs) with no user access control, unlocked network access port cabinets and unsecured Wi-Fi networks unquestionably reduce friction when simply trying to get the job done. With the risk of cyberattacks increasing, standard best practices for security may require a few extra steps but significantly reduce the risk of a breach and substantial losses. SOAR processes operate seamlessly in the background once established and ensure that automated responses can limit the breadth and depth of any intrusion, without slowing down or inhibiting production.
Initiating the OT cybersecurity journey
Plants need to conduct an asset inventory and assess risk to understand risk and possible OT cybersecurity gaps. They should put together a stakeholder team, including all levels, from machine operators and automation engineers to IT experts and decision makers. Beyond understanding risk, the primary need for all cybersecurity is comprehensive automated disaster-recovery backups and procedures. These procedures ensure that in the case of any breach, wipe or lockdown, all systems can be reset entirely with current data and programming, ready to operate. Comprehensive disaster-recovery processes require frequent backups and automated recovery procedures that can be triggered at need to restore any system from those backups.
Endpoint hardening, securing personal and plant-floor network access devices, is critical to reducing risk. Network-connected computers and mobile devices are common routes of entry for security breaches. Routine patching schedules and verification to bring these devices to the latest security versions eliminate known vulnerabilities and substantially reduce the risk of low-sophistication attacks. This routine must also include firmware updates for OT network hardware and equipment. Along with these standard practices, OT teams need best practices cybersecurity training on mitigating risk, similar to any employee with high-level IT or data access.
SOAR and SOC solutions
Once you have the basics in place, you have the foundations for the SOAR processes and SOC that can be instrumental in fortifying critical infrastructure and industrial systems against cyber threats. Elements for robust security include:
- Incident Detection: SOAR tools monitor OT networks for irregularities and suspect activities, instantly detecting potential breaches.
- Alert Triage: When triggered, SOAR automates the initial investigation, assessing its severity and impact on OT operations.
- Automated Response: SOAR can automatically initiate responses for low-level threats, isolating compromised devices or blocking malicious traffic, reducing the attack surface.
- Playbook Execution: SOAR employs predefined playbooks or workflows to guide incident response after a breach, ensuring consistent and effective actions are taken in line with OT protocols.
- Integration With OT Tools: SOAR seamlessly integrates with OT-specific technologies like industrial control systems (ICS) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, enabling coordinated incident response in the OT environment.
- Incident Documentation: SOAR tools maintain comprehensive records of incidents and responses, aiding in post-incident analysis, compliance and reporting.
- Human Oversight: While automation is essential, SOAR still requires SOC, or human oversight. Human analysts oversee and validate responses, ensuring that critical decision making is not fully automated and that changes are made to automation where needed in response to novel attacks or vectors.
- Continuous Improvement: SOAR platforms enable continuous improvement by learning from past incidents and refining playbooks for better resilience against future threats.
SOAR practices in OT settings combine automation, orchestration and human expertise with a SOC to enhance threat detection, response and recovery, while safeguarding critical industrial processes and infrastructure from cyber threats. Unlike traditional methods that rely heavily on manual incident responses, SOAR harnesses the speed of automation and system orchestration to swiftly detect, analyze and respond to any incident.
Streamlining workflows and reducing response times and human errors optimizes the speed of the response to minimize the time an intruder has to cause damage. SOAR also allows organizations to handle the growing volume and complexity of threats more effectively, scaling as needed. Moreover, it promotes consistency in incident response and offers better data for post-incident analysis, compliance reporting and continuous improvement.
Overall, SOAR’s proactive, adaptive and integrated approach is increasingly recognized as indispensable in the OT cybersecurity landscape, surpassing the limitations of outdated methods and reducing risk.