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Blog / 5 min read

Remote Privileged Access Management (RPAM) for OT Environments

The Claroty Team
/ April 24th, 2024

In operational technology (OT) environments, secure access is vital for the protection and control of critical industrial operations. We’ve seen this time and time again with the implementation of remote tools proving extremely valuable in enhancing safety, efficiency, and resource utilization — allowing employees and third-party vendors to access systems, share information, and collaborate on projects from across the globe. 

However, securing remote access has become more challenging than ever before as information technology (IT) and OT converge and the attack surface for cyber criminals expands. As a result, critical OT environments require a remote access solution that integrates Remote Privileged Access Management (RPAM) and Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) principles to fortify their security defenses and ensure unparalleled productivity and control.  

In this blog, we will discuss what RPAM is, the importance of implementing the right RPAM solution into your critical environment, and what to look out for when evaluating RPAM solutions. 

What is Remote Privileged Access Management (RPAM)? 

According to Gartner, “RPAM tools enable access for remote privileged users through session brokering, credential injection/vaulting and strong authentication capabilities, which mitigate many of the risks of unmanaged devices employed by those users. The tools also enable alignment with zero-trust architectures, because there is no implicit trust in corporate networks or endpoint devices.” Essentially, the goal of RPAM is to help organizations reduce risk and shrink the organizational attack surface, while also increasing administrative efficiency and operational agility. However, many organizations may find themselves struggling to find the right RPAM solution to fit their unique needs. 

RPAM is particularly crucial today as remote access has become widespread due to the enhancements brought about by digital transformation and the rapid adoption of remote work. Additionally, critical infrastructure and core industries often span wide geographic areas, rendering them extra sensitive to unscheduled downtime and making them a high-value target for malicious actors. These conditions highlight the need for a RPAM solution that supports OT workflows, benefits operational efficiency, and implements and enforces comprehensive security controls.

Why Should My Organization Leverage an RPAM Solution? 

Managing remote access to cyber-physical systems (CPS) is a crucial task; however, organizations face many complex challenges when attempting to balance the dual mandates of enhancing security and maintaining operations efficiency. Some of these challenges include: 

  1. Traditional approaches often fall short: Traditional remote access solutions may introduce significant security risks, lack visibility into user actions, cause delays in onboarding processes, and increase operational costs. These solutions primarily focus on ensuring data confidentiality, integrity, and availability but tend to falter when faced with the unique configurations and protocols found in OT.

  2. IT and OT continue to converge: As IT and OT environments converge, organizations are subject to legacy devices and communications in their operational environments that have traditionally favored physical security methods and network isolation and, as a result, lack cybersecurity controls that we see as commonplace in an IT network.

  3. Shift towards remote and third-party work: As technology evolves and working environments modernize, there is a shift towards remote and third-party work driven by cultural and business efficiency forces. Although this shift has provided increased flexibility, reduced travel costs, and operational benefits, it has also introduced the risks of unauthorized activity and operational data theft. 

  4. Governmental directives are slow-going: Although governmental directives have sought to improve the secure design of new technologies, this effort is unfortunately a slow and gradual process. At times, directives can also be very complex to follow and many organizations may lack the proper resources or budget to maintain compliance. 

As critical infrastructure organizations seek to combat the above challenges, it is imperative that they implement the right RPAM solution that can secure not only their IT and OT, but all CPS located in their unique Extended Internet of Things (XIoT) environment. This will allow organizations to strengthen their security posture, comply with regulatory frameworks and industry standards by implementing stringent controls, achieve and maintain strong risk management, improve operational efficiency, and reduce costs.

What Should I Look for When Evaluating RPAM Solutions?

When evaluating RPAM solutions, organizations should consider several key factors to ensure they select a solution that meets their unique security requirements, compliance needs, and operational objectives. Some important criteria to consider includes:  

  1. Productivity: A successful RPAM solution should minimize operational cost and inefficiencies by providing frictionless TO remote access. It should also achieve reduced mean time to repair (MTTR), visits, and safety hazards. Lastly, it should minimize the need for extensive training and ensure consistent operations with low latency. 

  2. Control: RPAM solutions should provide organizations with a centralized management of “who, what, when, where, and how”. By providing enhanced administration and control, successful RPAM solutions should simplify configuration options, management, and user activity visibility, as well as access provisioning with IAM integrations. With robust access control, your RPAM solution should ensure session brokering and role-appropriate access with Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) and Principle of Least Privilege. (PoLP), and should provide flexible access permissions and revoking. Lastly, on-demand access support is essential. The ability to easily manage and control remote access requests in real-time is a fundamental capability. 

  3. Security: The ultimate goal of a RPAM solution is to reduce exposure to cybersecurity risks. This should be achieved by implementing Zero Trust principles with CPS-specific considerations. Additionally, live monitoring, session recording, and action logs are essential to supporting incident response and audit actions. Finally, the right solution should align with industry regulations and standards including ISA/IEC 62443, NIST, and NERC-CIP to ensure secure and compliant operations. 

To balance the dual mandates of enhancing security and maintaining operational efficiency, integrating RPAM and ZTNA principles is essential. This approach fortifies defenses and ensures productivity and control are not compromised in the quest for unparalleled security. A solution much like Claroty xDome Secure Access bridges the gap between stringent security protocols and the operational agility required in today's OT landscapes. SRA aligns productivity, control, and security with the foundational tenets of RPAM and ZTNA, revolutionizing the protection and management of cyber-physical systems. It ultimately sets a new standard for resilience and operational excellence in the industrial domain — allowing organizations to effortlessly manage complex remote access challenges.

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