Why organisations need OT security awareness training

Published Jul 20,2023

Critical infrastructure organisations underpin the functioning of society, relying on operational technology (OT) systems and industrial control systems (ICS), to manage and control crucial operations, from power plants to transportation networks. However, as technology advances, so do the risks of cyber threats and attacks targeting these critical systems.  


Securing traditional OT environments requires a nuanced approach that includes increasing awareness of basic OT concepts as well as collaboration with OT engineers that engages their deep familiarity with the setup. Bridging the gap between IT and OT domains and empowering OT owners and operators with a heightened focus on cyber security is a significant challenge. This is where OT security awareness training becomes invaluable in helping critical infrastructure against evolving cyber risks while uniting the converging practices of IT and OT. 



Why do organisations need OT security awareness training? 


Let’s look at some key reasons why security awareness training is essential for critical infrastructure organisations: 


1. Human error 


People are often the weakest link in cyber security. In a recent study, the World Economic Forum found that 95% of cyber security incidents occur due to human error. Employees, contractors, and third-party vendors working with operational technology must be aware of phishing emails, social engineering tactics, or other deceptive techniques used by cyber criminals. Security awareness training helps educate and empower individuals to recognise and respond appropriately to potential threats, reducing the risk of human error leading to a successful attack. 


2. Evolving threat landscape 


Cyber threats are constantly evolving, and critical infrastructure organisations are prime targets for malicious actors seeking to disrupt essential services or gain unauthorised access. Cyber attacks on critical infrastructure can cause catastrophic damage financially, environmentally, as well as on the human front, from a safety perspective. The frequency and sophistication of attacks are increasing, and the threat landscape is getting bigger with technological advancements such as remote access and increased implementation of IoT in systems. Without an active improvement in an organisation’s cyber security posture, the risk of falling victim to cyber attack can’t be understated. Security awareness training ensures that employees stay updated on the latest threats, attack techniques, and best practices for preventing and mitigating potential security breaches. 


3. Compliance requirements 


Critical infrastructure organisations are subject to various regulatory and industry-specific compliance standards. The recent updates to SOCI Act legislation in Australia means many of these organisations in CI sectors are now subject to regulatory requirements that they didn’t fall under before. Security awareness training helps organisations unpack these requirements and assists in uplifting their security posture to meet these requirements. It ensures that employees understand their roles and responsibilities in maintaining compliance, safeguarding sensitive data, and adhering to necessary security protocols. 


4. Insider threats 


Insider threats pose a significant risk to critical infrastructure organisations. These threats can come from current or former employees, contractors, or individuals with authorised access to sensitive systems and information. The infamous Maroochy Shire incident from 2000 showcased the disastrous consequences when a disgruntled contractor maliciously released raw sewage into waterways via remote access systems. More recently, the ruling on the Discovery Bay Water Treatment incident in the US shed light on the alarming reality of insider vulnerabilities, highlighting the urgent need for enhanced security measures. Security awareness training doesn’t just raise awareness about external threats, it emphasises the importance of internal security practices and vigilance to prevent insider attacks or unintentional breaches. 


5. Incident response readiness 


In the event of a cyber incident or breach, a well-prepared and trained workforce can make a significant difference in minimising the impact and restoring normal operations swiftly. Governments have also recognised the importance of taking a holistic and proactive approach toward identifying, preventing and mitigating risks, as we’ve seen with the recent implementation of the Critical Infrastructure Risk Management Program (CIRMP) in Australia. Security awareness training further equips employees with the knowledge and skills necessary to identify and report potential security incidents promptly, enabling effective incident response and mitigation strategies. 


6. Culture of security 


Building a culture of security within critical infrastructure organisations is vital for long-term resilience against cyber threats. Operational technology is the heart of these critical infrastructure industrial organisations – it’s basically what keeps them going – and that’s why it’s pertinent that organisations should prioritise OT security. Security awareness training fosters a mindset of accountability, responsibility, and shared ownership among employees, promoting a proactive approach to security and making security practices an integral part of everyday operations. 


By investing in security awareness training, critical infrastructure organisations can significantly enhance their cyber security posture, reduce the risk of successful attacks, and safeguard the continuity of essential services. Training like that provided by OT-SAT empowers employees to be proactive defenders against cyber threats, contributing to a robust security culture that protects critical infrastructure and the communities that rely on it. 



Bridging the gap between IT and OT 

One of the main challenges that critical organisations face when it comes to OT cyber security is how to bridge the gap of knowledge between traditional OT operations and IT cyber security concerns. In many organisations, there is a lack of understanding of what OT actually is and a lack of awareness of the best cyber security measures to protect OT. As many OT environments are legacy environments, the practices of securing them can differ greatly from securing your standard IT environment. In the past, OT engineers were not required to be across cyber security. The convergence of OT and IT has highlighted the current need to uplift cyber security comprehension holistically, with particular focus on how it fits in to existing OT processes. 


OT-SAT aims to address this challenge by raising everyone in the organisation’s awareness of what OT is and the importance of cyber security in OT. Organisations need to understand why we need cyber security in OT, how to go about securing OT from threats, best practices, and the evolving regulatory requirements that are responding to the gap between critical infrastructure processes and cyber resilience.  


Are you ready to uplift your organisation’s security posture? Contact us for a demo to find out how OT-SAT can help you on your way to a more secure tomorrow.