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Why Rail-Specific Cybersecurity? Because Context Matters, and It Matters in a Big Way!

Daniella Julius
Daniella Julius
Content Marketing Manager
Industries, such as rail, are shifting away from generic OT cybersecurity and adopting solutions tailored to their specific needs.
The Importance of Rail Cybersecurity in Times of Economic Uncertainty

In the past, organizations have tried generic OT cybersecurity solutions to protect their critical infrastructure and industrial systems. This one-size-fits-all approach aimed to provide a broad spectrum of security measures that could be applied across any industry.

However, operators in many critical infrastructure industries have come to recognize they need more to address their unique challenges adequately. That might include the need to adhere to industry-specific regulatory requirements, the use of unique industry OEM equipment with unique protocols, and/or the existence of unique operating and safety processes and cultures.

Recognizing the unique challenges posed by their operational environments, industries such as rail, maritime, healthcare, automotive, and others are increasingly steering away from generic OT cybersecurity solutions. Instead, they embrace tailored industry-specific solutions that address their unique cybersecurity and risk management needs. 

The Importance of Industry-Specific Context

One of the essential reasons generic OT cybersecurity solutions fall short in certain industries is the lack of industry-specific context. In the rail industry, this includes the lack of visibility, operating, and safety context specifically. Each industry operates within its unique ecosystem, characterized by distinct processes, technologies, and operational environments. Ignoring these specific contextual factors can leave critical infrastructure exposed.

In their 2022 Market Guide for Operational Technology Security, Gartner highlights the significance of acknowledging industry-specific needs. They note that specific vertical industries, such as healthcare, defense, rail, or maritime transportation, have distinct security requirements stemming from the systems, protocols, sales cycles, and safety cultures unique to each.  

In many of these vertical markets, there are now vendors that recognize and embrace this uniqueness, introducing vertical-specific cybersecurity solutions and assembling in-house teams of industry experts. At the heart of these cybersecurity solutions lies complete asset visibility. In a rapidly changing threat landscape, gaining real-time insights into the status, location, and performance of both digital and physical assets is imperative.

The rail industry holds a perfect example of this. Operational rail technology (or rail tech) systems comprise a complex network of OEM components, including signaling and train control systems, continuous connectivity for communication with central control systems, legacy systems, and physical security elements like CCTV systems and platform screen doors. Complete asset visibility and understanding of the proper rail context enables quick identification of prioritized vulnerable assets, key risks and security posture weaknesses, cybersecurity threats, and regulatory compliance gaps. Without this visibility and rail context, critical operational infrastructures can remain vulnerable, and unnecessarily exposed to easily mitigated risks.

Unique Characteristics of the Rail Industry

As emphasized by Gartner, the rail industry stands out with its unique operational rail tech systems and faces several unique challenges that demand a tailored cybersecurity approach. Here are just a number of the considerations the industry faces:

  1. Safety-Critical Systems: Rail networks are built with components such as signaling and train control systems. These systems are mission-critical for ensuring the safety of passengers and cargo.
  1. Continuous Connectivity: Trains heavily rely on continuous connectivity to facilitate communication with central control systems, signaling equipment, and the distribution of crucial passenger information. Maintaining a secure and uninterrupted connection is critical in ensuring the safety and efficiency of rail operations.
  1. Legacy Systems: The use of old and new technologies can introduce vulnerabilities that require specific attention in cybersecurity strategies.
  1. Rail-Specific Cybersecurity Compliance: The regulatory landscape in the rail industry is rapidly evolving. To keep up with emerging threats and vulnerabilities, the industry must develop and adhere to cybersecurity compliance standards tailored to its unique operational environment.
  1. Physical Security Challenges: The rail tech environment encompasses various elements such as CCTV cameras, platform screen doors, trackside equipment, and control systems, all vulnerable to physical tampering or sabotage. Protecting these physical assets is essential for maintaining the integrity of the rail network.

Understanding these and other challenges, the rail industry has been at the forefront of implementing innovative cybersecurity solutions tailored to its specific requirements. 

The Benefits of Vertical-Specific Cybersecurity Solutions for Rail

Rail-specific cybersecurity solutions provide a complete solution by tailoring their approach to the intricacies of the rail industry. Unlike generic OT cybersecurity solutions based on little rail expertise, these rail-specific cybersecurity solutions are built on a deep understanding of the industry's specific systems, challenges, vulnerabilities, and threat landscape. 

The rail industry serves as a prime example of why vertical industry specific cybersecurity solutions are necessary to properly protect critical infrastructure. Vertical-specific cybersecurity solutions, focusing on industry-specific context and protection, are essential to safeguarding the rail industry and ensuring the uninterrupted flow of goods and passengers while mitigating ever-present cyber threats. 

  1. Gartner, “Market Guide for Operational Technology Security,” August 4, 2022

People illustrations by Storyset

Originally published
December 3, 2023
December 3, 2023

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