Risk-based security now more important than ever for Energy and Utilities!

June 18, 2021 | Bindu Sundaresan

This is the third of three blogs in a series to help the energy and utility industries. You can read the first blog on Ransomware and Energy and Utilities and the second blog on Threat Intelligence and Energy and Utilities as well.

Convergence of IT/OT is now a reality:

Whether intentional or accidental, IT and operational technology (OT) are converging to support business outcomes of reducing costs and taking advantage of efficiencies.  IT assets are being used in OT environments and with the transformation of Industry 4.0 for utilizing IoT. Given the convergence and increased attack surface, NSA has issued guidance around stopping malicious cyber activity against OT. CSA_STOP-MCA-AGAINST-OT_UOO13672321.PDF (defense.gov)

Security First mindset

There is a need for a mindset shift in protecting OT assets given the ineffective traditional approaches and priorities regarding how IT assets are protected. Legacy infrastructure has been in place for decades and is now being combined as part of the convergence of IT and OT. This can be challenging for organizations that previously used separate security tools for each environment and now require holistic asset visibility to prevent blind spots. Today's cybercriminals can attack from all sides, and attacks are laterally creeping across IT to OT and vice versa.

Beyond technology, focus on risk and resilience

It can be all too easy to deploy security technology and think you've mitigated risk to your business. Still, sadly technology investment is no guarantee of protection against the latest threats. It is critical to take a risk-based approach to security. This means that to decrease enterprise risk, leaders must identify and focus on specific elements of cyber risk to target. More specifically, the many components of cyber risk must be understood and prioritized for enterprise cybersecurity efforts.  Organizations are increasingly aiming to shift from cybersecurity to cyber resilience. This means they must understand the threats they face, measure the potential financial impact of cyber exposures, compare this against the company's risk appetite level, and proactively manage cyber risks by having clear action plans based on their capabilities and capacities to protect against cybercrime.

Focus on a risk-based approach

The risk-based approach does two critical things at once. First, it designates risk reduction as the primary goal. This enables the organization to prioritize investment, including in implementation-related problem solving based squarely on a cyber program's effectiveness at reducing risk. Second, the program distills top management's risk-reduction targets into specific, pragmatic implementation programs with precise alignment from senior executives to the front line.  

Following the risk-based approach, a company will no longer "build the control everywhere"; rather, the focus will be on building the appropriate controls for the worst vulnerabilities to defeat the most significant threats that target the business' most critical areas.  The risk-based approach to cybersecurity is thus ultimately interactive and a dynamic tool to support strategic decision-making.

 Focused on business value, utilizing a common language among the interested parties, and directly linking enterprise risks to controls, the approach helps translate executive decisions about risk reduction into control implementation. The power of the risk-based approach to optimize for risk reduction at any level of investment is enhanced by its flexibility, as it can adjust to an evolving risk-appetite strategy as needed.

A risk-based approach recognizes that there are no perfect security solutions, but those that strategically balance security, scalability, access, usability, and cost can ultimately provide the best long-term protection against an evolving adversary. Fundamentally, risk transformation changes security strategy from an outside-in perspective, where external threats and regulations drive strategy, to an inside-out perspective, where organization-specific business risk dictates security strategy and spend. 

Bindu Sundaresan

About the Author: Bindu Sundaresan

Director, AT&T Cybersecurity. Bindu Sundaresan is currently responsible for growing the security consulting competencies and integration with the AT&T Services and Product Offerings. Bindu is a security SME (subject matter expert) with the judgment and experience to right-size and customize information security solutions that both accommodate and enable business growth. She has worked to establish enterprise vision, strategies, and programs for Fortune 50 companies to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information assets – thus protecting and enhancing multimillion/billion-dollar revenue streams.

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