Cybersecurity, Facility Security

Vast Majority of Facility Managers Worry About Operational Cybersecurity, Finds Survey

Improving cybersecurity for operational technology (OT) systems ranks as one of the top priorities for surveyed facility managers over the next 12 to 18 months, according to a new report released by Honeywell.

The tech company says this is likely because more than 7 in 10 (71%) of surveyed facility managers consider OT cybersecurity a concern or worry. Moreover, respondents cite OT cybersecurity as the building improvement that would provide the greatest benefit to their stakeholders.

The report, “Protecting Operational Technology in Facilities from Cyber Threats: Constraints and Realities,” is the third in Honeywell’s 2021 Building Trends series. It introduces the challenges, priorities, and assessments of surveyed facility managers in the United States, Germany, and China across the education, healthcare, data center, and commercial real estate industries. The survey findings indicate that facility managers recognize the potential threat of an OT cyberattack and acknowledge the importance for building occupants.

Surprisingly, only 44% of respondents currently have a cybersecurity solution in place to protect their OT systems from potential threats. Furthermore, only one-third (33%) plan to invest in OT cybersecurity products over the next 12 to 18 months.

OT systems monitor, control, and protect processes, equipment, and operational environments. Within a building, assets such as HVAC, building management, and security systems can all be entry points for bad actors if not properly protected.

“Conversations about cybersecurity often focus only on IT and safeguarding data and assets, but OT cybersecurity is just as critical when you think of the potential effects. Imagine an entire data center team being denied building access or a hospital that can’t properly manage airflow in critical areas,” says Mirel Sehic, global director of cybersecurity at Honeywell Building Technologies. “A building’s OT environment should be monitored and maintained as rigorously as an IT system, but oftentimes the importance of practicing strong cyber and digital hygiene in OT systems is overlooked and underfunded.”

Honeywell says the survey found that more than 1 in 4 facility managers (27%) have experienced a cyber breach of their OT systems in the last 12 months, and 66% of respondents view managing OT cybersecurity as one of their most difficult responsibilities.

COVID-19, among other drivers, has prompted many respondents to adjust their near-term priorities. A majority (56%) are currently more willing to invest in safety-focused solutions (including OT cybersecurity) than they were before the onset of the pandemic.

“While the survey findings indicate that facility managers understand the importance of OT cybersecurity, they lack sufficient, consistent investments to fully protect their buildings and assets,” says Sehic. “The impact of cyber incidents can go beyond financial loss; operational and reputational damage can be equally critical, if not more so. As more building owners understand the potential effect of an OT attack on operations and infrastructure, facility managers will be in a better position to make smart buying decisions and heighten cyber resilience across OT environments.”

The full report is available here. For key findings of Honeywell’s previous reports in its Building Trends series, click here for one on security and safety and here for one on post-COVID themes.