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Blog / 7 min read

5 Essential Best Practices for OT Asset Management

The Claroty Team
/ July 3rd, 2024
Discover the essential best practices for effective OT asset management. Learn how to improve visibility, mitigate risks, and ensure compliance with Claroty.

Due to the acceleration of digital transformation, previously disparate information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) environments have begun to converge. And, organizations in all sectors have become increasingly reliant on newer types of cyber-physical systems (CPS) and other technologies that both require, and continue to expand, connectivity between IT and OT.

Although this convergence has given rise to undeniable business benefits, ranging from greater efficiency and sustainability to innovation, it has also fueled new risks and challenges — particularly when it comes to IT and OT cybersecurity

These risks have come in the form of an expanded attack surface and exposure shift, which has enabled threat actors to become bolder, more sophisticated, and more damaging in their attacks. This surge in malicious activity has since prompted the response of national governments and international organizations to create and expand regulatory frameworks to include explicit language surrounding the protection of the CPS found in critical environments. 

As adversaries continue to adapt and the attack surface evolves, critical infrastructure organizations require an OT asset management solution that is designed to meet the challenges and needs of their unique environment. 

What is OT asset management? 

OT asset management is the process of managing and optimizing the life cycle of OT assets within an organization. Typically, this includes OT asset discovery, asset tracking and inventory, performance monitoring, maintenance management, risk and compliance management, lifecycle management and security. 

OT versus IT Asset Management: The Key Differences

OT assets require a unique approach compared to IT assets when it comes to their management. This is due to the following differences: 

1. Operating environment

OT asset management is particularly important as these assets are typically used in critical environments, often have direct control of physical processes, and their failure can have direct physical impacts, including safety risks.

IT assets on the other hand are used mainly for information processing and business operation. They are dominant in office environments and are responsible for tasks like data management, software development, and network management.

2. Lifespan

OT assets tend to have long lifespans as industrial sites and other critical infrastructure environments are built to operate many years or even decades. 

IT assets on the other hand tend to have a shorter lifespan compared to OT assets due to rapid advancements in technology and software, requiring more frequent upgrades and replacement.

3. Interconnectivity

Due to digital transformation and the rise of IoT, IIoT, IoMT, and the Extended Internet of Things (XIoT), OT systems are becoming more connected — introducing new risks and asset management challenges.

IT assets on the other hand are almost always connected, both internally and externally. IT asset management, therefore, places a strong emphasis on network management and cybersecurity.

4. Risk & compliance

Due to their impact on physical processes, OT systems must comply with stringent industry-specific standards and regulations related to safety, performance, and reliability.

Although IT systems also have to comply with regulations, requirements are much more broadly applicable and typically focus on data privacy, copyright law, and cybersecurity.

5. Security 

OT assets are typically built with a focus on functionality and operational reliability, rather than security — making them more vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Opposed to OT security, IT security is a more mature field, and has established protocols for things like access controls, firewalls, data encryption, and software vulnerability management.

Why do you need a robust OT asset management strategy?

With a robust asset management strategy, critical infrastructure organizations can tackle critical challenges. Some of the key issues asset management can solve are: 

1. OT complexity

OT environments can be incredibly complex with many interconnected systems and processes. With a structured strategy, organizations can categorize and prioritize assets depending on their criticality — simplifying the management process.

2. Lack of visibility

For many organizations, it can become a challenge to track the presence, status, and performance of each asset, leading to inefficiencies, redundancies, and potential failures going unnoticed. With a robust asset management strategy, organizations can achieve comprehensive asset visibility, with a complete inventory and understanding of their respective performances — ensuring you know what you have and how well it's functioning. 

3. Evolving cyber threats 

As the growth of connected technologies expands the attack surface, new exposures and other cyber risks that malicious actors can exploit are created. OT asset management can help mitigate this risk by integrating cybersecurity into the asset management process.

4. Complex regulatory landscape 

The regulatory environment has become more stringent with non-compliance now resulting in legal consequences, significant fines, and reputational damage. By implementing an OT asset management strategy, organizations can ensure compliance by keeping track of changes in regulations, integrating them into maintenance and operation protocols, and maintaining necessary documentation for proof of compliance.

5. Operational Efficiencies 

With many moving parts, OT environments are at the risk of potentially suffering from inefficiencies that can lead to increased operating costs, decreased output, or decreased quality. An OT management strategy can identify and squash these inefficiencies by optimizing the use of assets, scheduling regular maintenance to prevent unexpected breakdowns, and utilizing analytics to drive continuous improvement.

From ensuring operational continuity and cybersecurity to meeting regulatory requirements, the importance of OT asset management cannot be overstated. However, the consequences of poor OT asset management can be even more far-reaching. This includes the potential for asset failures that can lead to operation downtimes, lost production, and in certain cases, safety risks. As a result, a robust OT asset management strategy is paramount for critical infrastructure organizations that depend heavily on OT operations. 

5 essential best practices for OT asset management 

When managing OT assets and other cyber-physical systems, organizations must strike a balance between maximizing operational efficiency, maintaining secure and sustainable operations, and ensuring regulatory compliance. To make this possible, organizations can begin with the following five essential best practices to guide OT asset management strategy:

1. Establish a comprehensive asset inventory

The foundation of effective OT asset management is a comprehensive and current inventory of all assets. It's vital to know what assets you have, where they're located, what their status is, and how they function. With a highly detailed, centralized inventory of all assets, organizations can identify redundant assets, ensure efficient use of resources, and prioritize maintenance or upgrades.

2. Continuously monitor for operational risks

By continuously monitoring and correlating your assets and operations with the latest vulnerability, EOL, and other exposures your organization can gain real-time insights into asset performance and potential security issues. Staying on top of asset activity will also help you detect anomalies faster, improve response times to potential issues, and avoid unplanned downtimes.

3. Conduct regular vulnerability assessments 

Conducting regular assessments is critical to efficient OT vulnerability management. This will allow your organization to identify weaknesses in your OT environment before they can be exploited. By correlating your asset inventory with the common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVE) system and other weaknesses, organizations can pinpoint vulnerable assets and uncover the risk blindspots in their OT environment.

4. Optimize workflows via reporting and integrations

Reporting is imperative for understanding the state of your OT assets and making informed decisions about asset allocation, maintenance, and replacement — and even provides the necessary documentation for audits and regulatory compliance. While integrations with CMDB, CMMS, and other inventory management tools can enable you to further optimize workflows with your existing tech stack. 

5. Ensure regulatory compliance

Many critical infrastructure sectors are subject to strict regulatory requirements relating to safety, emissions, data privacy, and more. As a best practice, organizations should expand their asset management strategy and ensure compliance by keeping track of changes in regulations, integrating them into maintenance and operation protocols, and maintaining necessary documentation for proof of compliance.

Future-proofing Operations with OT Asset Management 

We understand that no two OT environments are identical, and there cannot be a one size fits all approach to securing them. However, by adopting these best practices in your OT asset management strategy, your organization can begin to optimize performance, increase longevity, improve security, and foster regulatory compliance. With a well-managed OT environment, your organization can pave the way for safer and more reliable operational processes.

A trusted CPS security partner like The Claroty Platform can help you establish a successful OT asset management strategy and take the necessary steps to help you boost resilience. With a full-service platform, you can identify the most important assets in your environment and manage them all in one. Request a free demo to learn more. 

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