Industrial networks of energy and ICS integration companies hit by more cyberattacks

Almost 40% of all industrial control systems (ICS) in energy organisations protected by Kaspersky Lab solutions were attacked by malware at least once during the last six-months of 2017, closely followed by 35.3% of engineering & ICS integration networks. That’s one of the key findings of the latest report from Kaspersky Lab, ‘Threat Landscape for Industrial Automation Systems in H2 2017’, which found that the number of attacks on these two sectors noticeably exceeds those on other industries. Other sectors experienced an average of between 26% and 30% of ICS computers attacked. The vast majority of detected attacks were accidental hits.

The cybersecurity of industrial facilities remains an issue that can lead to very serious consequences affecting industrial processes, as well as businesses losses. While analysing the threat landscape in different industries, Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT recorded that nearly all industries regularly experience cyberattacks on their ICS computers.

However, two industries were attacked more than others - energy organisations (38.7%) and engineering & ICS integration businesses (35.3%). The sector that demonstrated the most noticeable growth of ICS computers attacked during H2 2017 (compared to H1 2017) was construction, with 31.1%. For all other industries in question (manufacturing, transportation, utilities, food, healthcare etc.) the proportion of attacked computers ranged from 26% to 30% on average.

According to experts, the energy sector was one of the first industries that started to widely use various automation solutions and is now one of the most computerised. Cybersecurity incidents and targeted attacks over the past couple of years, along with regulatory initiatives make a strong case for the power and energy companies to start adopting cybersecurity products and measures for their operational technology (OT) systems.

Moreover, the modern power grid is one of the most extensive systems of interconnected industrial objects, with a large number of computers connected to the network and a relatively high degree of exposure to cyber threats, as demonstrated by Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT statistics. In turn, the high percentage of attacked ICS computers in engineering and ICS Integration businesses is another serious problem given the fact that the supply chain attack vector has been used in some devastating attacks in recent years.

The relatively high percentage of attacked ICS computers in the construction industry compared to H1 2017 could indicate that these organisations are not necessarily mature enough to pay the required attention to the protection of industrial computers. Their computerised automation systems might be relatively new and an industrial cyber security culture is still to be developed in these organisations.

The lowest percentage of ICS attacks has been found in enterprises specialising in developing ICS software - 14.7%, meaning that their ICS research/development laboratories, testing platforms, demo stands and training environment are also being attacked by malicious software, although not as often as the ICS computers of industrial enterprises. Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT experts point to the significance of ICS vendors’ security, because the consequences of an attack spreading over the vendor’s partner ecosystem and customer base could be very dramatic, as was seen during the exPetr malware epidemic, for instance.

Among the new trends of 2017, Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT researchers have discovered a rise in mining attacks on ICS. This growth trend began in September, along with an increase in the cryptocurrency market and miners in general. But in the case of industrial enterprises, this type of attack can pose a greater threat by creating a significant load on computers and, as a result, negatively affecting the operation of the enterprise’s ICS components and threatening their stability. Overall, during the period from February 2017 to January 2018, cryptocurrency mining programs attacked 3.3% of industrial automation system computers, in most cases accidentally.

Other highlights from the report include:

  • Kaspersky Lab products blocked attempted infections on 37.8% of ICS computers protected by them. This is 1.4 percentage points less than in the second half of 2016.
  • The internet remains the main source of infection with 22.7% of ICS computers attacked. This is 2.3% higher than in the first six-months of the year. The percentage of blocked web-borne attacks In Europe and North America is substantially lower than elsewhere.
  • The top five countries by percentage of ICS computers attacked has remained unchanged since H1 2017 and includes Vietnam (69.6%), Algeria (66.2%), Morocco (60.4%), Indonesia (60.1%), and China (59.5%).
  • In the second half of 2017, the number of different malware modifications detected by Kaspersky Lab solutions installed on industrial automation systems increased from 18 thousand to over 18.9 thousand.
  • In 2017, 10.8% of all ICS systems were attacked by botnet agents, a malware that secretly infects machines and includes them in a botnet network for remote command execution; the main sources of attacks like this were the internet, removable media and email messages.
  • In 2017, Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT identified 63 vulnerabilities in industrial systems and IIoT/IoT systems, and 26 of them have been fixed by vendors.

 “The results of our research into attacked ICS computers in various industries have surprised us. For example, the high percentage of ICS computers attacked in power and energy companies demonstrated that the enterprises’ effort to ensure cybersecurity of their automation systems after some serious incidents in the industry is not enough, and there are multiple loopholes still there that cybercriminals can use,” said Evgeny Goncharov, Head of Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT.

 “Overall, in comparison with 2016 we have seen a slight decline in the number of ICS attacks. This probably indicates that, generally, enterprises have started to pay a bit more attention to ICS cybersecurity issues, and are auditing the industrial segments of their networks, training employees, etc. It is a good sign, because it’s highly important for businesses to take proactive measures in order to avoid firefighting in future,” he adds.

Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT recommends the following technical measures to be taken:

  • Regularly update operating systems, application software and security solutions on systems that are part of the enterprise’s industrial network.
  • Restrict network traffic on ports and protocols used on the edge routers and inside organisation's OT networks.
  • Audit ICS component access control in the enterprise’s industrial network and at its boundaries.
  • Deploy dedicated endpoint protection solutions onto ICS servers, workstations and HMIs to secure OT and industrial infrastructure from random cyberattacks.
  • Deploy network traffic monitoring, analysis and detection solutions for better protection from targeted attacks.
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