OT Cybersecurity: Safeguarding Building Operations in a Digitized World
Mirel SehicMirel Sehic

OT Cybersecurity: Safeguarding Building Operations in a Digitized World

By Mirel Sehic, Global Director of Cyber Security, Honeywell

In an increasingly digitized world, the looming threat of cyberattacks has cast a shadow over nearly every aspect of our lives. As technology continues to intertwine with our daily routines, the vulnerability of a building’s critical infrastructure becomes ever more apparent. These concerns are brought into the spotlight by high-profile ransomware attacks, which can now penetrate even the most intricate systems.

Recently, in September, the gravity of this threat was illustrated when two Las Vegas casinos fell victim to an information technology (IT) cybersecurity breach. This breach not only caused slot machines to be down but also rendered hotel cards useless, among other disruptions. The aftermath of these attacks cost these institutions millions of dollars in revenue, underscoring that no business, regardless of the sophistication of its cybersecurity systems, is immune to such attacks.

While this example shows how the consequences of any cybersecurity attack can be severe, it is imperative to also recognize that attacks associated with operational technology (OT) cybersecurity can be even more catastrophic. In these cases, operations cease, and entire systems come to a standstill. Unlike IT cybersecurity attacks, which primarily jeopardize data, OT cybersecurity breaches threaten not only the integrity of information but also the functionality and safety of the spaces we inhabit.

The number of cyberattacks involving OT systems has steadily increased in recent years. Several factors contribute to this trend, including inadequately protected cybersecurity environments, the influx of new Internet of Things (IoT) devices and connected systems, and the escalating complexity of securing OT systems. These challenges highlight the need for organizations to prioritize the security of these critical systems.

In tandem with the surge in attack incidents, the global cost of cybercrime is also increasing, with a portion of the multi-trillion dollar cybercrime industry cost being attributed to attacks on operational technology environments. This emphasizes the escalating threat to OT environments and highlights the urgency for organizations to bolster their cybersecurity measures to protect against attacks, especially given the critical role OT systems play in the safe and effective operation of industrial processes. As the cybersecurity threat landscape continues to expand within both OT and IT, it is paramount for organizations to proactively stay ahead of the curve.

When speaking about OT cybersecurity attacks in buildings, it is imperative to understand that buildings are not just physical structures but instead, they serve as the vital hubs of modern life, encompassing offices, entertainment facilities, factories, hospitals and more. However, this centrality makes them an attractive target for cyberattacks. Equipped with various smart systems like access control, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) and lighting, buildings have become increasingly digital, but this digitalization also exposes them to vulnerabilities. As the lines blur between the physical and digital worlds, attackers exploit new avenues to infiltrate these spaces.

To enhance a building’s resilience against OT attacks, cybersecurity governance stakeholders, from facility managers, operators to CISOs should adopt a layered security approach. This method begins with a comprehensive security assessment to understand assets and how they communicate with each other. Once an assessment has been completed, key stakeholders can identify vulnerabilities, create a secure configuration and design plan that prioritizes critical assets while also selecting additive cybersecurity appliances and software to bolster defenses. From there, operators can begin to implement holistic cybersecurity monitoring and importantly create an incident readiness plan to be prepared in case of any future incidents. This convergence provides real-time threat detection and response capabilities, bolstering a building’s defense against cyberattacks. However, while these are just a few of the steps building owners and operators can take to reduce vulnerabilities, each plan will vary based on the building’s security risk requirements and budget.

The intersection of OT and IT cybersecurity in the built environment requires a comprehensive approach. It necessitates a collective understanding that buildings are not just physical spaces but also digital ecosystems. The future demands a holistic approach to OT security, aligning IT and building management to safeguard the spaces we rely on.

About the Author

OT Cybersecurity: Safeguarding Building Operations in a Digitized WorldMirel Sehic is the Global Director of Cyber Security of Honeywell. Mirel Sehic is the vice president general manager of cybersecurity for Honeywell Building Technologies (HBT). He leads a team that is responsible for educating and helping customers efforts to protect their operational technology (OT) cybersecurity critical infrastructure environments. Mirel oversees the cybersecurity business globally, including the integration with development, partnerships, marketing of solutions, sales and operations. Mirel can be reached online at our company website https://buildings.honeywell.com/.

January 14, 2024

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