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Two Big OT Security Concerns Related to People: Human Error and Staff Shortages

A survey of 3,500 security experts from around the world shows that a lot of the cybersecurity problems related to operational technology (OT) involve people, specifically human error and a significant shortage of staff.

A survey of 3,500 security experts from around the world shows that a lot of the cybersecurity problems related to operational technology (OT) involve people, specifically human error and a significant shortage of staff.

The survey, conducted by IoT and OT security firm SCADAfence, found that more than 75% of experts believe their OT security risk level is high or severe for the company’s overall risk profile.

While some respondents named technology and processes as posing the greatest risk for OT system compromise, 79% are most concerned about human error.

The survey also found that 83% believe there is a significant shortage of OT security workers. More than two-thirds of respondents said the lack of dedicated security staff is diminishing the effectiveness of their organization’s OT security.

Sixty-nine percent of respondents believe organizations are having a hard time finding these types of employees due to potential candidates lacking the right amount of skills, followed by high burnout among staff, and the lack of resources.

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According to SCADAfence’s field CTO, Paul Smith, one of the problems with OT security staffing is related to remuneration. Smith explains that an industrial cybersecurity specialist is actually a combination of automation/control specialist, IT network specialist, and cybersecurity specialist.

The salary of an automation specialist ranges between $55,000 and $113,000, of an IT network specialist between $58,000 and $95,000, and of a cybersecurity specialist between $69,000 and $133,000.

Since the role of industrial cybersecurity specialist is what he describes as a “variable mixture” of these three occupations, Smith says organizations should create a new pay category. “Doing this will help entice team members to take on the extra responsibilities (and headaches) that this job presents,” he says.

It’s also possible for people in the aforementioned three roles to transition to industrial cybersecurity. Automation or control specialists have what Smith describes as a “head start,” as they already have advanced knowledge of processes, technologies and the impact of certain actions in OT environments. They need to learn networking and cybersecurity.

For IT network and cybersecurity specialists, it’s a bit more complicated as their actions could result in costly production downtime. The best approach, according to Smith, is for them to work side-by-side with automation specialists for a while until they gain the needed knowledge and experience.

“The global OT security workforce gap is substantial, and there is a need to be creative in filling the gap. To find the right talent, industrial organizations need to have two core concepts when filling the workforce gap. Set reasonable expectations and be open-minded about who qualifies for OT security positions. In many cases, organizations base their parameters with strict and restrictive guidelines when building their OT security teams,” SCADAfence said in its report.

Related: Investment in IIoT/OT Security Leads to Reduced Incident Impact

Related: Many OT Security Incidents Result in Outages Posing Physical Safety Risk

Written By

Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.

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