Digital Business

Safeguarding Industry 4.0: Using zero trust to avoid pitfalls in IoT/OT security during mergers and acquisitions

Aug 10, 2023
Safeguarding Industry 4.0

As businesses strive to capitalize on the potential synergies between the Internet of Things (IoT)/Operational Technology (OT) and more traditional assets, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) have become a key vehicle to enhance business performance. However, merging two companies presents unique technological challenges, of which cybersecurity is the paramount concern. IoT infrastructure like transmitters, sensors, cameras, printers, as well as OT systems, present unique cybersecurity challenges for M&A deals. The following are strategies CTOs, CISOs, heads of infrastructure and Integration Management Office leaders can employ to safeguard these transactions.

Understanding the cybersecurity landscape in IoT/OT infrastructure during M&A activity

Business transactions have the potential to introduce new security concerns or bring latent issues to the forefront. Here are some areas deserving of attention: 

  • Expanding attack surface: The integration of IoT and OT assets creates an expanded attack surface, often encompassing IoT devices, OT systems, and data. Each connected IoT endpoint device becomes a potential entry point for malicious actors, necessitating robust cybersecurity measures.
  • Legacy systems and vulnerabilities: OT systems often rely on legacy infrastructure, which may not have been designed with modern security considerations in mind. Oftentimes, the underlying tech stack supporting the OT systems is out of date and therefore increases the threat to the connected OT systems. Integrating these systems with IoT devices can expose vulnerabilities, making them attractive targets for cyberthreats.
  • Compliance, compatibility, and interoperability: Merging disparate IoT platforms and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems brings challenges of compliance, compatibility, and interoperability. Ensuring seamless integration while maintaining cybersecurity standards is critical to prevent security gaps that could be exploited.
  • Data privacy and confidentiality: M&A deals including IoT/OT systems involve the transfer and consolidation of vast amounts of sensitive data. Safeguarding privacy and maintaining confidentiality throughout the integration process is paramount to prevent data breaches and regulatory non-compliance.

Strategies for ensuring cyber security in IoT/OT M&A

To mitigate some of the risks discussed above, business entities can engage in the following:

  1. Due diligence and risk assessment: Thorough cybersecurity due diligence must be conducted during the M&A process. This includes the target companies having an accurate inventory of IoT devices, assessing the security posture of the IoT devices and OT system, identifying vulnerabilities, and evaluating past incidents.
  2. Continuous monitoring and threat intelligence: Implementing continuous monitoring and threat intelligence systems helps detect and respond to emerging cyber threats. Proactive monitoring of IoT/OT assets, anomaly detection, and real-time incident response can help prevent and mitigate potential breaches.
  3. Secure integration planning: Developing a comprehensive integration plan that prioritizes IoT and OT security is vital. This includes assessing compliance and compatibility, establishing secure communication protocols, and implementing robust access controls to devices to minimize the risk of unauthorized access.

The zero trust approach to securing IoT/OT infrastructure during M&A

Zscaler has supported IoT/OT infrastructure in M&A for customers in sectors like Industrial, Oil & Gas, Manufacturing, and Supply Chain. A zero trust approach is the most effective way to ensure robust IoT/OT security with adaptive, context-based device and application access that doesn’t depend on network access. Here’s how a zero trust approach to support IoT/OT security in M&A: 

  • IoT device visibility: A security cloud can provide complete visibility of all IoT devices, servers, and unmanaged user devices across the acquirer and acquiree landscape, enhancing due diligence results (1). The platform reduces administrative overhead through continuous monitoring, AI/ML classification of IoT devices, and enables centralized reporting using a single admin portal (2). Further, the platform enables zero trust connectivity for IoT devices across the businesses based on device behavior and identity, supporting secure integration planning (3).
  • Privileged access to OT systems: True zero trust enables fully isolated connectivity for third parties and employee access to equipment from acquirer and acquiree for predictive maintenance, minimizing downtime and enhancing integrated operations. This reduces risk during integration (3) by making OT networks and systems invisible to the internet so attackers can’t disrupt production lines. 
  • IoT and OT device communications: Zero trust enables simple, direct, secure access for devices to the internet, access between devices, and private applications across the acquirer and acquiree environment thereby enabling data communication and monitoring (2). Remote workers and third-party vendors can access OT systems without the hassle associated with traditional VPNs, thereby improving the user experience during integrations (3).

As the realms of IoT and OT converge through mergers and acquisitions, cybersecurity must remain a top priority. Proactive measures such as conducting thorough due diligence, planning secure integrations, continuous monitoring, and establishing incident response protocols are critical to safeguarding IoT/OT M&A transactions. By prioritizing cybersecurity from the outset and leveraging zero trust architecture, businesses can minimize vulnerabilities, protect sensitive data, and fortify their IoT/OT ecosystems against evolving cyberthreats.

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