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IT/OT Convergence & The Future of Industry 4.0

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By Dhananjay Ganjoo, Managing Director for India and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) at F5

We are on the cusp of a significant overhaul as 5G is expected to become mainstream in the coming years. Simultaneously, the Internet of Things (IoT) is already fueling the innovation for Industry 4.0 as device connectivity increases and intelligent data is processed smoothly. However, before Industry 4.0 becomes a reality, networks and systems need to be integrated for innovation to reap the promised benefits.

With 5G acting as a catalyst, IT/OT convergence is happening faster than anticipated. This convergence which is the unification of the information technology network used to process data and operational technology systems or physical processes and equipment used to house those processes, pledges efficient business operations by collecting and analyzing data from the OT systems.

The F5 2022 State of Application Strategy Report reveals Indian companies most excited about IT/OT convergence
Interestingly, 2022 State of Application Strategy Report finds that 44% of the Indian respondents are excited about the IT/OT convergence, followed by 42% of the Indian respondents being excited about 5G in India. While this excitement from India assures speedy innovation, it also opens a soft underbelly for cybersecurity threats as attack surfaces continue to expand exponentially due to IT & OT convergence.

If not addressed appropriately, attacks can be further expedited by 5G networks. These connected devices and industrial equipment can be exploited using the same threats and vulnerabilities that have traditionally plagued IT software and hardware. While 5G enables organizations to process significant amounts of data and move it swiftly over networks, it also makes it easier and faster for the bad actors to exploit networks with malware and steal IP and sensitive data.

Security – a top priority
Hence, there is a need to overcome these challenges before enforcing the IT/OT convergence pathway. With inherently incompatible technologies to organizational disconnects, the gap may seem daunting compared to the benefits. However, the key to success here is to bridge the gaps to benefit from IT/OT convergence and improve industrial efficiencies.

Companies can start by ensuring that security is a top priority and not merely an afterthought. Robust cybersecurity can be ensured by implementing best practices such as Zero Trust, segmentation, and uniform security controls and policies throughout the IT & OT deployments and infrastructure set-up at the beginning of the convergence. This default setting can help achieve better visibility, identity management, real-time log analysis, and ongoing vulnerability management.

On the IT side of deployment, organizations can benefit from a risk-based vulnerability management approach. It comprises a preemptive understanding of the threats and the corresponding risks posed by the OT environment. Researching and opting for security devices, tools, and platforms best suited to monitor, detect, and respond to these threats are critical in maintaining device-level visibility. Organizations should aim to have a centralized management system and standardize technologies as much as possible.

The promise of a progressive future
It can be frustrating for IT teams to navigate different technologies, where sometimes unforeseen circumstances can increase the chances of errors, resulting in costly consequences. Incorporating a simple single-pane view for management to gain and maintain maximum visibility can help overcome this gap and easily automate the deployment and configuration process, ensuring operational efficiency and reliability.

On the organizational side, robust cybersecurity demands restructuring of the organization so that the IT and OT departments can work together and manage the newly merged technology. It requires cross-training the teams to better understand how both environments work and relate to each other.

The efforts to overcome the gap at the beginning of the IT/OT convergence can help spot anomalies in real-time and signal an attack, thus saving costly dollars. While the disconnect may seem daunting, the promise of benefits is worth the excitement around the IT/OT convergence and deserves the undertaking for a secured Industry 4.0 of tomorrow.

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