Request demo
April 21, 2023

Zero Trust in Secure Remote Access in Operational Technology (OT)

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as 4IR or Industry 4.0, refers to industries, technologies, and processes that are under pressure to upgrade their game as the demand for interconnectivity and smart automation increases dramatically. This puts secure remote OT access at the center of OT security.


A new level of connectivity and industrial secure remote OT access
The benefits of implementing secure remote OT access in OT cybersecurity?
Zero Trust secure remote OT access and industrial enterprises

The ongoing shift has given rise to:

  • a pronounced need for OT cybersecurity
  • secure remote access (SRA) to industrial control systems (ICS) for adjustments, maintenance, and upgrades
  • cyber-physical systems (CPS) in which a physical mechanism, like a robot, crane, or medical device, is controlled by software
  • IT/OT convergence, where organizations transmit information collected from OT processes to their digital IT networks, for a unified approach to systems monitoring
  • digital twins that are virtual copies of the physical world to allow experimentation or designing plants, parts of machinery, or processes
  • making data-driven decisions now that industries can tap into data produced by sensors, ICS, or big machinery
  • …and more

At the center of all this, new types of connectivity and data streams are identity and secure remote access for OT.

A new level of connectivity and industrial secure remote OT access

ot_cybersecurityIndustrial enterprises operate in complex and multi-site OT/ICS networks with components from multiple vendors. Examples include programmable logic controllers (PLC), like Siemens S7 or Modbus Profinet. Businesses do not have expertise in-house to adjust PLCs and need help from vendor specialists.

This is where secure remote access in OT steps in. Enterprises allow privileged remote access for maintenance engineers, vendor experts, operators, integrators, and third parties – and for a good reason. Granting secure remote access for maintenance tasks reduces travel costs and shortens the time from decision to action.

But remote access security in OT is only as efficient as the solution enabling it. So, what are some key elements to look for in a secure remote access solution?

The benefits of implementing secure remote access in OT cybersecurity

Eliminate both IT and OT cybersecurity issues
Enable secure remote predictive maintenance in OT
Manage shared credentials for OT secure remote access sessions
Optimize operations remotely
Share data-driven decisions securely and remotely for efficiency
Comply with regulations with secure remote OT access audit trail
Mitigate liability

Eliminate both IT and OT cybersecurity issues

OT production environments used to be closed and primarily focused on ensuring the safety of production sites. With IT gaining a foothold in OT sites, security and safety become interlinked. At the same time, industries lack the expertise and solutions to ensure remote access security to both IT and OT targets.

A centralized secure remote access solution for OT cybersecurity takes care of access to legacy and modern IT and OT targets alike. It works in conjunction with airgaps, VPNs, DMZs, and firewalls, and in some cases can even replace them.

Enable secure remote predictive maintenance in OT

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) sensors allow identifying maintenance issues in real time and take preventive action before the machinery stops operating or completely breaks down. A piece of equipment could be running at a high temperature in Germany, but the maintenance engineer is located in Finland.  

These are critical tasks that need a dynamic and easy-to-use secure remote OT access solution. Workflow approvals, access to machinery with the right level of privilege, and off-boarding - all need to be fast in time-sensitive operations like this.

Manage shared credentials for OT secure remote access sessions

One of the key elements of a secure remote access solution in OT is ensuring the secure use of credentials. A modern way to do that is to allow access just-in-time (JIT) for the session without sharing credentials in advance or even needing to explicitly revoke access. If this modern, JIT Zero Trust access is not possible, the backup plan is to vault credentials.

Learn more on why you are better without vaulting >>>

Optimize operations remotely

In industrial automation, processes need to produce value constantly. If a site has found a way to optimize an operation of a piece of machinery, it makes sense to share the blueprint with all of the other sites across the organization. Sharing this data to remote OT sites needs to be secure with proper monitoring, tracking, and even recording of the sessions.

Share data-driven decisions securely and remotely for efficiency

Industries have been making a big push to be more environmentally friendly. Data will help companies propel their efforts to the next level. By aggregating, interpreting, and understanding the right context for its use, operational data allows sharing of best practices to identify the most efficient use for power, asset performance, and waste reduction of processes and machinery (like pumps, turbines, fans, belts, or vehicles).

Once again, secure sharing of this data is key.

Comply with regulations with an audit trail

One of the increasingly important reasons for tracking, auditing, monitoring, and recording sessions is to comply with regulations. The Directive on Security of Network and Information Systems, known as the NIS Directive, is soon to be replaced by NIS2.

Manufacturing, energy, transportation, food manufacturing, waste management, and water suppliers, to name a few sectors, are now considered to be “Operators of Essential Services (OES)” or “Sectors of high criticality”. This means that OT cybersecurity will be under heavier scrutiny from the authorities going forward.

Moreover, IEC 62443, ISO27001, and NIST have implications for OT cybersecurity. Producing a solid audit trail of activities for compliance is a must-have feature.

Mitigate liability

Leadership teams, CEOs and CFOs, and Boards of Directors are responsible for ensuring not only the safety but the security of their sites. Shareholders are more likely to take legal action against the leadership or board of a company if there are signs of the negligence of appropriate security measures in an organization.

When an industrial company can identify every access, limit secure remote access privileges to the bare minimum needed for the job, and apply workflow approvals for the tasks, they are already seriously improving their OT cybersecurity game.

ot cybersecurity, remote access security, secure remote access solution

Zero Trust secure remote access and industrial enterprises

Many secure remote OT access solutions focus on enabling individual, secure sessions. Zero Trust Secure Remote OT Access solutions take things a step further. The best of them have evolved beyond mere remote OT access security and offer full access and secrets lifecycle management, including:

  • Highly granular secure remote access, for example, by allowing view-only rights to an IT/OT target, access only to a specific application, or the permissions to adjust a single parameter inside an ICS
  • Managing access to legacy and modern IoT/IIoT and IT environments
  • Secure remote OT access across the layers of the OT environments, like from OT to DMZ
  • Linking to Identity and Access Management solutions for mapping the right identity with the right role
  • Tracking, auditing, monitoring, and recording sessions
  • Workflow approvals for jobs in-solution or through integration into ticketing systems
  • Easy onboarding for maintenance engineers and consultants with reliable off-boarding and restrictions on access
  • Secrets management for credentials
  • Just-in-time Zero Trust authorization for passwordless and keyless access

One of the more sophisticated and advanced Zero Trust secure remote OT access solutions on the market is our PrivX OT Edition which combines access to industrial, on-premises, cloud, and hybrid targets under one roof. It is the digital gatekeeper of secure remote OT access from the ground to the cloud.  

The solution allows OT cybersecurity to evolve into just-in-time (JIT), Zero Trust passwordless and keyless access where permanent credentials are no longer used or need to be managed. The secrets simply vanish automatically within minutes of authorization and are always hidden from users. This is true Zero Trust.


Jani Virkkula

Currently employed by SSH.COM as Product Marketing Manager, Jani is a mixed-marketing artist with a strong background in operator and cybersecurity businesses. His career path of translator->-tech writer -> marketer allows him to draw inspiration from different sources and gives him a unique perspective on all types...

Other posts you might be interested in