Secure your Operational Technology (OT) against online attacks with new cyber security professional diploma programme

25 Jul, 2022

Min read

Image of  Robotic factory arm cyber security courses

As featured in The Independent, Prof. Thomas Newe, Associate Professor with UL’s Department of Electronic and Computer Engineering, explains why the new cyber security professional diploma programme is particularly beneficial for IT professionals who are unfamiliar with OT. 

The article is included below or via this link: 


Cyber security: why it matters

Cyber security has been pushed to the forefront of public consciousness in recent years, thanks to a spate of high-profile hacks and ransomware attacks that have occurred both internationally and in Ireland. Vital business operations in many industries are increasingly carried out and managed online, which has given rise to a heightened need for comprehensive digital security training and awareness.

One of the primary concerns of industry leaders in the manufacturing field is how they can secure the seamless functioning of their OT (Operational Technology) systems.

OT is a term that describes hardware and software which is used to oversee and control the physical devices, processes and events associated with any given business enterprise. With the advent of Industry 4.0, which seeks to establish automated protocols and operation guidelines for the manufacturing industry, the secure functioning of OT systems underpinning manufacturing processes is paramount.

Unlike IT attacks that generally target data, OT attacks focus on industrial control systems (ICS), leading to a tangible physical impact. For example, during a 2017 Triton/Trisis cyberattack on a Middle East petrochemical plant's safety instrumentation system, the attackers triggered an outage that could have led to the release of toxic hydrogen sulphide gas or caused explosions.

In the USA, the Colonial Pipeline ransomware cyberattack in May 2021 threatened the security of the company’s oil pipeline infrastructure. This incident highlighted the need for OT engineers to understand and be able to defend against sophisticated cyber attacks. Whilst cyber attacks exist in the digital space, they can have a real and tangible effect on the physical world.

Bridging the educational gap

Recent hacks within vital sectors of the Irish economy have highlighted both the pressing need for workers who are highly skilled in cyber security, and the current shortage of such workers.

The Professional Diploma in OT Security is an innovative new programme that bridges this urgent educational gap.

This diploma is jointly offered by two HEA-Human Capital Initiatives: Cyber Skills (Ireland’s leading cyber security initiative) and UL@Work (a University of Limerick-based initiative that provides digital skills programmes to thoroughly prepare graduates for the workplace).

Cyber Skills was established in order to address the critical skills shortage in cyber security by providing flexible, university-accredited online micro-credentials and pathways, delivered by lecturers who are experts in their field. Cyber Skills’ courses have been created by academic leaders in MTU, UL and TU Dublin, as well as the institute’s industry partners.

Integrating OT and IT knowledge

The Professional Diploma in OT Security is designed to develop the skills of emerging cyber security experts in Smart Manufacturing. The diploma is ideal for professionals who are directly or indirectly involved in integrating OT and IT systems to facilitate Industry 4.0 standards in their organisation.

Programme lecturers actively encourage individuals and companies to invest in their employees’ skills, knowledge and training, in order to protect and strengthen their organisation’s defence against cyber attacks.

Prof. Thomas Newe, Associate Professor with UL’s Department of Electronic and Computer Engineering, explains that the diploma is particularly beneficial for IT professionals who are unfamiliar with OT. “The course really helps IT engineers to better understand OT, and learn how IT securely interfaces with it.”

Deeper understanding and career progression: what students can expect

The course curriculum will give participants a strong grounding in the integration of IT and OT technology, associated security issues, understanding of the laws, regulations and policies involved, and the potential risks to organisations, so that they can effectively integrate systems and mitigate the risks involved in adopting Industry 4.0 standards.

All course material is provided online, and delivered in a blended fashion. Each of the six credit modules – two per semester – will have a two-hour online live class per week, and all classes will be recorded for later playback. Each module also features a practical lab assignment that can be completed in the student's own time, with online support when required. This represents a course commitment of about 12 to 15 hours per week.

The diploma will be of great benefit to professionals who are seeking to upskill and improve their career trajectory, as it provides two modules that address the Future of Work, called Future Focused Professional Portfolio 1 & 2.

These modules provide learners with an opportunity to demonstrate independent and self-determined learning through the creation of their individual portfolio. They aim to help students understand not just what a career as a cyber security expert entails now, but what it is likely to entail in the future.

“Very few academic programmes in Ireland cover OT or Industry 4.0, and it is crucial that this kind of education becomes more commonplace to support Ireland’s manufacturing sector,” Prof. Newe says. “When factory processes are operated remotely, security becomes an issue, as IT infrastructure can be used to hack into OT systems. The diploma enables a traditional IT engineer – who doesn’t understand the OT space – to learn how they can integrate an OT system securely.”

Accreditation and workplace readiness

The diploma’s pathway is aligned to the NIST/NICE framework of qualifications, meaning that graduates of the programme will be workplace ready and qualified for specific job roles needed by industry. Thanks to Cyber Skills’ input, learners will also gain valuable hands-on experience in mitigating cyber-attacks, as Cyber Skills is the only educational provider in Ireland to train their students on a cyber range.

A cyber range is a controlled, interactive technology environment where emerging online cyber security professionals learn how to detect and neutralise attacks, using equipment similar to that which they will have on the job. Here, students can practise their skills against hacks in a simulated, safe environment.

While the modern cyber security landscape poses many threats to smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0, the Professional Diploma in OT Security enables professionals and organisations to get ahead of the threat and be proactive in protecting their businesses.

Do not wait until you have already been attacked: upskill and reskill yourself and your employees, as they are your best line of defence.

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