What is the risk of not being connected?

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In my nearly two decades of navigating the complex world of technology across various sectors—finance, offshore, governmental, energy, retail, manufacturing, and education—I’ve recently pondered the question: What is the risk of not being connected? Each project I’ve contributed to, though based on Microsoft platforms and solutions, presented its unique DNA, with some posing exceptionally intricate challenges due to their involvement with critical infrastructure services affecting people’s money, health data, or living conditions.

Securing these sectors was a more straightforward task a decade ago. Systems were predominantly air-gapped, isolated from external access, and seemed a distant concern from the cyber threats we face today. However, the landscape has dramatically shifted. The rise in cyber-attacks and the sophistication of these malicious endeavors demand a reevaluation of our security measures.

In the context of my experiences, a significant area that exemplifies the evolution of security challenges is within Operational Technology (OT) environments. OT, a critical component in sectors like energy, manufacturing, and utilities, involves using hardware and software to monitor and control physical processes. The unique aspect of OT systems is their direct impact on the physical world, which can have immediate and tangible consequences if disrupted.


Historically, and still practiced extensively today, the security of OT environments has depended heavily on physical isolation, a strategy known as “air-gapping.” This method was considered adequate for shielding critical infrastructure against cyber threats within the lower levels of the Purdue Model for Industrial Control Systems, particularly at Level 0 (physical process) and Level 1 (control). However, with the digital transformation initiatives that have progressively integrated IT and OT, particularly as systems interface at Level 3 (operations) and above, the limitations and vulnerabilities of relying solely on air-gapping have become strikingly evident. As the Purdue Model illustrates, secure interaction across all levels—from the field devices up to the enterprise zone—is crucial. Therefore, a more holistic approach to cybersecurity that encompasses the entire spectrum of the Purdue Model is essential to protect these interconnected systems against contemporary cyber threats.

The convergence of IT and OT has introduced a complex array of challenges. On one hand, it has enabled unprecedented levels of efficiency, data analysis, and automation. On the other, it has exposed OT systems to a landscape of cyber threats traditionally associated with IT environments. This exposure is particularly concerning given that OT systems were not designed with cybersecurity as a primary consideration, often lacking the same robust security features found in IT systems.

Moreover, the stakes in OT security are exceedingly high. Compromises in these environments can lead to severe outcomes, including operational downtime, environmental damage, and even threats to human safety. The critical nature of infrastructure managed by OT systems—such as power grids, water treatment facilities, and industrial production lines—underscores the potential consequences of cybersecurity lapses.

This brings us to a crucial point of reflection: what is the risk of not being connected? In the sphere of OT, the question takes on a nuanced meaning. It’s not merely about the risk of not being part of a connected, digital world but also about the risk of not integrating modern cybersecurity practices into these essential systems. As we delve further into the evolution of cybercrime and its impact on OT environments, the importance of this question becomes ever more apparent.

What are the perils of staying disconnected? Consider the implications of not leveraging sophisticated XDR tools like Microsoft Defender for Endpoint and Defender for Cloud or not utilizing state-of-the-art automated response systems such as Microsoft Sentinel with their potent machine learning and AI capabilities. These innovations provide smaller security teams with a critical advantage in the ongoing battle against ransomware, malware, and various security incursions.

 What is the consequences of remaining isolated?

We know that in an OT-environment Uptime is more awarded than Updated. However with todays competition sitiation, the need to inegrate with partner APIs, IT-systems and other cloud-services this now becomes a majour concerns as we all now that outdated systems, operating systems, firmware etc. holds lots of vulnerabiltites just a few clicks away of being explotied and it is often just a question of, not if you will be attacked, but rather when.

The Inherent Risks of Disconnection

The question then shifts from what we risk by staying unconnected to what we stand to lose if we fail to adapt. In an era where cyber threats can originate from any corner of the globe, the illusion of safety in isolation has dissipated. The interconnected nature of our systems demands a security posture that is equally dynamic, adaptive, and forward-thinking.

In the next part we will look further into these questions and also see Microsoft offerings like Defender for IoT and how this can make a big change and impact in IT/OT cyber defense. 

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