The demand for technology, such as the XONA CSG, that can effectively support secure user access, both remote and onsite, has expanded to include the operational technology (OT) and industrial control systems (ICS) that enable organizations in a variety of critical infrastructure (CI) sectors to function. This need now extends to employees, contractors, and vendors.

However, the priorities of a knowledge worker (i.e., the confidentiality of data) are inherently different than those of an OT operator (i.e., ensuring timely and reliable access to operational technologies, or the industrial control systems used to manage critical infrastructure). The latter needs to ensure system availability, with the potential to bring significant harm to humans and the environment if the systems were controlled by someone with malicious intent.

One way to protect against those with malicious intent is using protocol isolation. It involves confining the use of an explicit network protocol to the specific network location in which it is operating and isolating it from other environments such as the Internet or an IT network. As with network segmentation, protocol isolation helps protect systems against compromises and breaches by keeping all activity local. This keeps those with malicious intent from exploiting weaknesses in one protocol that might enable them to install, execute, and spread malware.

Protocol isolation is particularly important to critical infrastructure organizations, where operational technology (OT) employs a mix of protocols to connect to OT assets that may not be secure. This mix of network protocols can involve connections to products of varying complexity and functionality, complicating the task of securing an environment from cyber-attacks. When it’s not possible for teams to individually secure the full range of assets and protocols in use, isolating them within their specific network is a practical approach.

Fortinet’s 2022 State of OT and Cybersecurity Report underscores the value of protecting protocols for ICS,
which OT professionals ranked as the 2nd most important feature.

protocol isolation for industrial control networks (ICS)

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