The oil and gas industry is a critical sector for the global economy. It is also a sector that is vulnerable to cyberattacks. In recent years, there have been several high-profile cyberattacks on oil and gas companies. This includes the 2017 NotPetya attack on Maersk and the 2018 Triton attack on Saudi Aramco.

These attacks have highlighted the need for improved security in the oil and gas sector. In particular, there is a need for better OT (Operational Technology) security. OT systems are used to control and track critical industrial processes. They are often connected to the internet, which makes them vulnerable to attack.

Oil and gas companies can take several steps to improve their OT security. But first, we must take a step back and understand OT vulnerabilities and how they can be exploited.

Understanding OT Vulnerabilities

OT systems are usually designed to be “air-gapped” from the rest of the corporate network. This means there is no direct connection between OT systems and the internet or other parts of the company network. 

But, this does not mean that OT systems are completely isolated. They often need to communicate with other systems. This includes ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) or SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) systems.

This communication typically happens through “gateways,” which connect the OT system to the rest of the network. These gateways are a potential point of weakness that attackers can exploit.

Another way that attackers can gain access to OT systems is through the use of portable media, such as USB drives. These devices can be used to introduce malware into an OT system, bypassing security measures.

OT systems are also vulnerable to attacks that exploit vulnerabilities in the underlying hardware or software. For example, the 2017 NotPetya attack took advantage of a vulnerability in the software used to run Maersk’s OT systems.

Once an attacker has gained access to an OT system, they can cause several types of damage. They may choose to delete or modify data, disrupt processes, or even cause physical damage to equipment. The consequences of such an attack can be devastating, both for the company and for the wider community.

Understanding OT Cyber Security

OT cyber security or OT security is the practice of protecting OT systems from attack. It is a relatively new field and one that is still evolving. It involves a number of different disciplines such as:

  • Network security. 
  • Industrial control systems (ICS) security.
  • Critical infrastructure protection.

There are a number of different approaches to OT security. One of the most popular approaches to ensuring OT cyber security is vulnerability management. The process of identifying, assessing, and mitigating vulnerabilities in systems and software is called vulnerability management. It is a proactive approach that can help to reduce the risk of attack. 

By identifying and addressing vulnerabilities, companies can make it more difficult for attackers to exploit them.

How to Improve OT Security With OT Vulnerability Management

There are a number of steps that should be taken as part of an OT vulnerability management program:

  1. Identify OT Assets and Systems

The first step in OT vulnerability management is to identify all of the OT assets and systems in an organization. This includes both physical and logical assets. Oil and gas companies often have a large number of OT assets spread across a wide geographical area. They should ensure that every last endpoint is accounted for.

  1. Identify Potential Vulnerabilities in These Assets and Systems

The next step is to identify the vulnerabilities in each OT asset and system. It can be done with several methods, including:

  • Manual inspection. 
  • Automated scanning.
  • Penetration testing.

Manual inspection

This involves manually inspecting each OT asset and system, looking for potential vulnerabilities. This can be a time-consuming process, but it is important to ensure that no vulnerabilities are missed.

Automated scanning

This involves using automated tools to scan OT assets and systems for potential vulnerabilities. These tools can be very effective at identifying common vulnerabilities. However, they may miss less common or more sophisticated vulnerabilities.

Penetration testing

This involves using simulated attacks to test the security of OT assets and systems. Penetration tests can be very effective at identifying vulnerabilities that would not be found using other methods. However, they should only be conducted by experienced OT security professionals.

  1. Assess the Risks Posed by These Vulnerabilities

Once the vulnerabilities have been identified, they need to be assessed in order to determine the risks they pose. This assessment should take into account the severity of the vulnerability and the likelihood of it being exploited.

  1. Implement Controls to Mitigate the Risks

The next step in OT vulnerability management is to mitigate the risks posed by the vulnerabilities by implementing controls. This can be done by:

  • Patching the vulnerabilities.
  • Implementing workarounds.
  • Taking other OT security controls.

Patching

This involves applying patches or updates to the affected assets and systems in order to close the vulnerabilities.

Workarounds

This involves implementing temporary measures to reduce the risk posed by a vulnerability until it can be patched.

Security controls

This involves implementing security controls, such as firewalls or access control measures, to protect OT assets and systems.

  1. Monitor and Review the OT Vulnerability Management Program

It is important to monitor and review the OT vulnerability management program on a regular basis. This will help to ensure that it is effective and that any new vulnerabilities are identified and dealt with in a timely manner.

  1. Repeat Steps 1-5 on a Regular Basis

It is important to repeat steps 1-5 regularly. This will help to ensure that any new vulnerabilities are identified and mitigated on time.

  1. Communicate With Stakeholders

The final step in OT vulnerability management is to communicate with stakeholders. This includes informing them of the risks posed by vulnerabilities and the controls that have been put in place to mitigate these risks. It is also important to get feedback from stakeholders on the effectiveness of the OT vulnerability management program.

Key Takeaways

The oil and gas industry is an extremely vital sector for the global economy. That’s why it’s incredibly important to keep its system safe from cyberattacks. An awesome solution for this is better Operational Technology (OT) security. 

OT vulnerability management is a critical part of an overall security strategy for OT systems. It is important to take a proactive approach to OT security and to identify and mitigate risks in a timely manner. 

By following the steps outlined in this guide, oil and gas companies can make sure that their OT systems are secure. These steps can also help business operations run smoothly with no security breaches.