[BreachExchange] How quickly could a cyber attack take down critical infrastructure?
destry at riskbasedsecurity.com
Mon Mar 4 09:29:24 EST 2019
With crucial national infrastructure like power systems and
manufacturing currently in the spotlight, stakeholders need to
consider the impacts of unseen risks, such as cyber attacks, on
operational technology networks.
The recent national infrastructure challenges have thrown into sharp
relief the impacts down time can have on businesses, individuals and
the national economy.
AUTHOR: Doros Hadjizenonos, regional sales director at security
Most local industrial and manufacturing organisations have moved in
recent years to upgrade Operational Technology (OT) environments -
including industrial control systems (ICS) and supervisory control and
data acquisition (SCADA) systems, switches, sensors, valves and
manufacturing technologies - to advanced and connected modern
Industrial IoT (IIoT) systems that support automation, remote
monitoring and analytics.
In many cases, organisations are opting to merge older OT environments
with their IT systems.
This aging OT may also be integrated across multiple sites and systems
to enable a single control system through a cloud-based platform.
These smarter, more connected systems typically support cost savings,
efficiency and enhanced health and safety.
However, some of these OT systems are decades old, designed in a
pre-cyber risk era, and are vulnerable to malware and other cyber
The very connectedness that enables smarter operations also expands
the organisation’s risk profile, making systems that worked
historically suddenly interconnected and highly vulnerable devices
that can be compromised remotely.
Critical infrastructure is being increasingly targeted by cyber
criminals, with a reported 51% of organisations experiencing a
SCADA/ICS security breach within the past 12 months.
Cybercriminal organisations may target particular organisations to
hold systems hostage for a ransom, manipulate stock prices, gain a
competitive advantage, raise political awareness or for other
A successful attack can lead to immediate disruption, and even
destruction of physical assets and essential services like water,
electricity, and fuel.
In the case of critical national infrastructure such as a power grid,
dramatic and far-reaching damage is caused by down time.
In manufacturing, a system crash or unexpected down time can have a
devastating ripple effect on production, turnover, human resources and
Attempts to address risk by simply bolting on firewalls, sandboxes,
and IPS systems into these OT environments present an unacceptable,
disruptive, and uncertain outcome.
Security tools need to be strategically designed into the OT
environment at the highest level, and purpose-built to understand the
sorts of protocols, communications, and services that have been
deployed to preserve safety and availability.
Securing the OT environment
The convergence of OT and IT demands unified, automated security,
implemented in a strategic manner designed specifically to support the
Unlike traditional IT security strategies, OT security strategies also
need to include access control, processes for at-speed recognition of
actions that are beyond the scope of normal, and ruggedised appliances
designed for use in extreme conditions.
Organisations need to shift from a reactive to a proactive security
posture, implementing strategies such as segmentation to limit
exposure in the event of a compromise, and multi-factor authentication
to mitigate the physical access control risk. Security needs to be
driven deep into the OT infrastructure, segmenting systems and
devices, actively monitoring east-west traffic, and isolating
Organisations must also deploy security devices purpose-built for OT
environments to protect the network from IT, cloud Internet-based
threats, as well as establishing continuous visibility into devices
and their behaviours with a combination of NAC (Network Access
Control) and behavioural analytics.
Wireless communications must be secured across all Industrial IoT
(IIoT) device communications protocols.
And all security systems need to be integrated within an OT-specific,
real-time threat intelligence platform for vulnerability protection,
deep visibility and granular control over proprietary ICS and SCADA
Securing the OT environment should be a top priority for industrial
and infrastructure organisations, since failing to adequately secure
these environments could cost organisations dearly, and could impact
stakeholders far beyond the immediate environment.
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