The Digital Shield: Strengthening OT Security in an Evolving Heavy Asset Industry



In an increasingly digital world, there is an argument that every business is now a technology company. As a result, even the heavy assets industry is undergoing significant digital transformation. Despite being long considered traditional and slow to adopt technological advancements, this sector, encompassing manufacturing, energy, and transportation, has recognised the need to optimise and digitise its operations to stay competitive.

However, this transformation comes with its own challenges, particularly regarding cybersecurity and a stark talent shortage across the OT security sector. This worrying combination is responsible for the scramble for tech talent, with companies desperately trying to secure their digital frontlines. But how did we get here?

Increasing Vulnerability: Cyber Attacks on the Rise

According to the Fortinet global 2023 State of Operational Technology and Cybersecurity Report, 75% of manufacturing businesses experienced at least one cyber-attack in the past year. This statistic highlights the alarming vulnerability of operational technology (OT) systems in heavy asset industries. While these industries have historically been slower to adopt digital advancements, they are now catching up, and as they do, they must confront the inherent security risks.

The digital transformation wave sweeping heavy asset industries has exposed previously isolated operational technology systems to a broader threat landscape. This shift has made heavy asset companies more susceptible to cyber-attacks, including ransomware, malware, and phishing attempts. The interconnectedness of OT systems with IT networks and the cloud has expanded the attack surface, providing cybercriminals with more entry points and opportunities for exploitation. In the face of this increased vulnerability, heavy asset companies must prioritise OT security to protect their critical infrastructure and operations.

The geopolitical climate injects an additional dimension of complexity into Operational Technology (OT) security in heavy asset industries, where international disputes can escalate into cyber warfare, frequently targeting critical infrastructure. This pervasive attack landscape highlights the necessity for resilient cybersecurity measures, requiring constant vigilance and adaptation to address geopolitical risks. 

The global interconnectedness allows cyber threats to originate from any corner of the world, with nation-states and cybercriminal groups often aiming at critical infrastructure, resulting in potential severe financial, operational, and public safety implications. Thus, managing geopolitical risks necessitates a dynamic, proactive approach to OT security. 

Complex Security Challenges: The Convergence of OT and IT

As heavy asset industries increase their reliance on Operational Technology, they face many more security challenges. The convergence of OT and IT networks introduces complexities that require specialised skills to mitigate. Control and access of multimillion-dollar machinery in the cloud create new vulnerabilities that must be addressed. Traditional businesses in these industries often lack the security measures to protect their digital assets, making them more susceptible to cyber threats.

The merging of OT and IT networks brings together two distinct technology realms with different security requirements and risk profiles. Previously, OT systems could be isolated from the internet and kept relatively secure. However, with the merging of networks, threat actors can exploit IT access points or cloud vectors to disrupt operations, resulting in a financial or political gain for the attackers. Furthermore, supply chain attacks on the IT and OT sides cannot be ignored as they evolve to involve implants in controls and automation equipment or compromises in vendors’ software repositories.

To address these challenges, heavy assets companies must adopt a holistic approach to security that encompasses both IT and OT domains. This approach involves implementing robust security controls like network segmentation, access controls, and vulnerability management programs. Additionally, organisations need to ensure the removal of default passwords and continuously update policies and procedures to keep pace with the evolving threat landscape.

The Talent Challenge: Meeting the Demand for Expertise

The demand for cybersecurity talent in the heavy assets industry is skyrocketing, but there is also severe global talent shortage. The unique blend of IT and industrial domain knowledge required for OT security makes finding the right skill set a significant challenge. As heavy asset companies recognise the importance of cybersecurity, they are competing for a limited pool of experts to secure their digital frontlines.

The scarcity of cybersecurity professionals with specialised OT expertise poses a significant challenge for heavy assets companies. They require professionals who understand the intricacies of OT systems, industrial protocols, operational processes, and robust cybersecurity knowledge. These professionals must bridge the gap between IT and OT, ensuring that security measures are effectively implemented while minimising disruptions to critical operations.

The Role of Executive Search Firms: Finding the Right Talent

Heavy assets companies are turning to executive search firms like Quotacom, with expertise in cybersecurity talent acquisition, to overcome talent challenges. For example, our deep understanding of the industry’s unique challenges enables us to identify and attract talent to guide businesses through a digital transformation while ensuring robust OT security.

One case in point is SKF, a leading global supplier in the heavy assets industry. SKF recognised the importance of OT security in its digital transformation journey and partnered with us to help secure the necessary talent. This partnership illustrates the crucial role that specialised talent plays in ensuring a successful and secure digital transformation.

By leveraging the expertise of executive search firms, heavy asset companies can access a wider talent pool and find professionals with the necessary blend of IT and industrial domain knowledge. These professionals can help organisations navigate the complex landscape of OT security and implement effective cybersecurity measures.

Prioritising Cybersecurity: Safeguarding Critical Infrastructure

In a world defined by digital progress and automation, industries cannot afford to ignore the rising tide of cyber threats. The heavy asset sector, which includes utilities, manufacturing, oil and gas, mining, and construction, is no exception. While these industries have seen remarkable progress in leveraging technology to enhance efficiency and productivity, the associated cybersecurity risks have risen exponentially.

Unlike most other industries, the heavy asset sector’s crucial infrastructure directly impacts the livelihoods and well-being of populations on a large scale. A successful cyber-attack could result in extended blackouts, polluted water, and dangerous manufacturing failures. Such incidents could lead to loss of life, large-scale economic disruption, and damage to public trust.

A notable example was the 2010 Stuxnet worm that targeted SCADA systems and caused substantial damage to Iran’s nuclear program. Such incidents highlight the potential impact of cyber threats on critical infrastructure.

The interconnectedness of systems, while facilitating efficiency, also presents vulnerabilities that, if exploited, can lead to catastrophic outcomes. These threats have heightened importance considering the crucial nature of the infrastructure this sector represents. Therefore, prioritising cybersecurity is essential in safeguarding critical infrastructure.

Further exacerbating this situation is the increasing interconnection and digitalisation of processes, systems, and devices, often referred to as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). With this interconnection comes increased exposure to cyber threats. Integrating cybersecurity into the business model must be a strategic priority for heavy asset industries. It’s not just about protecting company data; it’s about safeguarding the critical infrastructure society relies on. A secure digital transformation is no longer a competitive advantage but a necessity.

By investing in cybersecurity measures and the right talent, heavy asset industries can secure operations, protect their reputation, and build a resilient future in an increasingly digital world. The battle for talent in the field of OT security may be fierce. Still, with the support of executive search firms and a commitment to proactive security practices, heavy asset companies can fortify their digital frontlines and defend against evolving cyber threats.

Fortifying the Digital Frontlines

The heavy assets industry is undergoing a significant digital transformation, embracing technology to optimise operations and remain competitive. However, this transformation exposes the sector to new cybersecurity risks. The rising number of cyber-attacks highlights the vulnerability of operational technology systems in heavy asset industries. To mitigate these risks, organisations must prioritise OT security and bridge the talent gap in this specialised field.

The geopolitical landscape further complicates the OT security landscape, requiring organisations to navigate global tensions and potential cyber threats. The evolving threat landscape demands a proactive and adaptive approach to OT security, with collaboration between heavy asset companies, government agencies, industry associations, and international partners.

By leveraging the expertise of executive search firms, heavy asset companies can identify and attract the right talent to guide them through their digital transformation journey. These professionals bring a unique blend of IT and industrial domain knowledge, ensuring effective implementation of cybersecurity measures while minimising disruptions to critical operations.

The heavy assets industry already recognises that integrating cybersecurity into the business model is not just a matter of compliance or reputation; it is vital to safeguarding critical infrastructure and ensuring operational continuity. If you want to leverage our expertise in cybersecurity talent acquisition in your industry, please get in touch with our Business Manager for EMEA, Ashur Roberts ( to start a conversation.

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