SecurityBrief Australia logo
Australia's leading source of cybersecurity and cyber-attack news
Story image

How to protect Industrial IoT from ransomware

By Contributor
Mon 4 Nov 2019
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Article by Claroty APJ regional business VP Eddie Stefanescu

Ransomware attacks in operational technology (OT) environments are becoming increasingly common as they demonstrate the impact they can have on production processes - shutting down production lines, industrial processes and resulting in revenue loss.

In its 2019 Security Report, Telstra said its research showed ransomware to be a growing problem in the OT domain: building automation systems, industrial control systems powering vehicles, industrial processes, production lines and public systems such as water and power.

Among the most damaging ransomware attacks to OT environments were WannaCry and NotPetya outbreaks of 2017 which hit production networks worldwide resulting in shutdowns, massive clean-up efforts and millions of dollars in damages.

The NotPetya ransomware that wreaked havoc in 2017 cost global shipping line Maersk $300million.

The company said it reinstalled 4,000 servers and 45,000 PCs in just 10 days. Collectively, FedEx, Maersk, Merck, Mondelez, Reckitt Benckiser, and Saint-Gobain experienced financial losses totalling nearly $900million as a result of NotPetya attacks.

Similarly, when WannaCry infected iPhone chip manufacturer TSMC in 2018, the company’s operational downtime led to estimated damages of $250 million.

IT an avenue for attacks on OT

Most of the targets of these attacks have been IT networks and the data they carry, but many people don’t realise the extensive “spillover” damage to industrial environments when the ransomware spreads from the IT network to poorly segmented OT networks.

While IT systems with good backups can recover lost data relatively quickly, the impact of a ransomware attack on an OT environment can potentially be far worse in terms of lost production time that cannot be recouped.

Whatever the ultimate target, with operational and information technology systems increasingly interconnected, IT systems and networks are often the entry for attacks that target industrial systems.

In January 2016, a US power company was hit by a variant of the Samsam ransomware that prevented it supplying power to its customers.

According to a report of the incident, the company got hit because its IT systems were vulnerable and there was no demilitarised zone (DMZ) between its IT and its industrial OT systems.

A more spectacular and successful attack on industrial systems occurred in March 2019 when global aluminium producer Norsk Hydro was hit by the LockerGoga ransomware that infected 22,000 computers across 170 sites in 40 countries.

The BBC reported: “The entire workforce - 35,000 people - had to resort to pen and paper. Production lines shaping molten metal were switched to manual functions, in some cases, long-retired workers came back in to help colleagues run things ‘the old-fashioned way’. In many cases though, production lines simply had to stop.”

A report in SC Media suggested LockerGoga had compromised Active Directory and used this to gain access to OT systems from the IT network.

Integrating IT and OT protection

OT cybersecurity is a relatively new discipline as compared to IT security, and one that, in many cases, didn’t have a clear owner in the early days. 

Did it belong to the Operations team that had more knowledge about the production environment, or did it belong to the IT Security team that had more expertise in identifying and managing cyber risk?

That question created significant inefficiencies and security gaps as enterprises took their initial steps into OT cybersecurity. 

So corporate boards insisted there be clear ownership and accountability for protecting revenue-generating production environments. 

Fast-forward five years and the dust is settling with the CISO clearly responsible for securing both the IT and OT environments. 

However, this creates a bit of a conundrum for the CISO. 

The added responsibility usually doesn’t come with a budget windfall to hire a team of OT security specialists (even if you could find such rare talent).

To maximise efficiencies, SOC teams need to leverage their people, processes and technologies originally designed for the IT environment wherever possible. 

But the OT environment is a different beast.

These organisations need to train their teams to understand the unique requirements for securing an operational environment.

For example, IT-centric security technologies that used to monitor the business networks for threats are not appropriate for most industrial control networks. 

They simply don’t understand the unique operating systems and communications protocols found in specialised OT endpoints and leave SOC analysts blind to what’s actually happening on the network.    

Deeper visibility

One of the biggest problems OT asset owners have is asset discovery.

As the old security adage goes, “you can’t protect what you can’t see”. 

Many industrial control system (ICS) networks have been in place for years, evolving slowly with the operational requirements of the enterprise and with little centralised knowledge of all the components.

Operations teams historically guarded this environment closely to ensure outside influences (like security) didn’t put productivity at risk. 

As a result, security teams may start with a very poor line of sight into what OT is on the network and how they are communicating.

Gaining complete visibility into the industrial control network, discovering all connected assets, and understanding how they are communicating is a critical first step to identifying vulnerabilities and recognising threats.

Technologies like those offered by Claroty, are purpose-built to understand and interpret the language of OT networks. 

They start by monitoring network traffic, deciphering the proprietary communication protocols, identifying the connected endpoints across the network, and mapping the communications patterns.

Tools like Claroty’s Continuous Threat Detection can extract extremely granular detail such as asset type, manufacturer, IP and MAC address, operating system, firmware version and patch levels to help administrators identify vulnerabilities across the network as well. 

With a detailed asset inventory and a map of communication patterns, these technologies establish baselines of normal network activity and constantly monitor for any anomalies that could indicate a security threat. 

Automating network segmentation

Armed with this detailed OT asset inventory and network map, security personnel are also much better equipped to implement what I believe is one of the most impactful actions they can take to reduce the risk of a major security incident; network segmentation.   

When I say segmentation, I’m referring not only to segmentation between the IT and OT networks, but also segmentation within the OT network environment (aka micro-segmentation, zones, etc.).

The former can make it harder for attackers to gain a foothold within the OT network and the latter can make it much more difficult for them to move laterally if they do happen to gain access.

Network segmentation is a pretty basic security practice, but without a complete network view, it can be a very time consuming and expensive process which demands constant vigilance to keep the segmentation updated as networks expand and change.

Best-of-breed OT security technologies can generate and maintain a ‘current state’ view of OT assets and communications to accelerate segmentation initiatives.  Segmenting the IT and OT networks can virtually eliminate the risk I mentioned early of ransomware spilling-over from one environment to the other.

The very best solutions can also create and enforce micro-segmentation; that is automatically grouping similar network assets into “virtual zones” with specifically designed sensitivity policies to highlight and prioritise alerts that show potentially malicious communication between virtual network segments. 

Conclusion

As long as there is profit to be made by holding data hostage, there will be ransomware. 

Today’s cyber-extortionists are organised, highly skilled, and very difficult to catch, so we can’t rely on law enforcement to protect us against these crimes; it’s up to us.

So far, OT environments have not been the primary targets for ransomware attacks (though the day will come). 

But if the last five years have taught us anything about OT security and ransomware, it is that collateral damage is still damage. 

It makes no difference if an OT human-machine-interface device is targeted directly, or if a ransomware threat enters through a vulnerable PC in the accounting department and propagates onto the OT network, the impact is the same.

With security organisations now responsible for protecting both IT and OT environments, there is a great opportunity to manage cyber-risk more holistically across the industrial enterprise. 

Doing so efficiently requires a combination of leverage and integration as well as specialised security tools to provide visibility into each environment.

Related stories
Top stories
Story image
Tech job moves
Tech job moves - Adatree, Brother, Databricks, Nutanix & Rubrik
We round up all job appointments from May 20-26, 2022, in one place to keep you updated with the latest from across the tech industries.
Story image
Cybersecurity
4/10 Australian SMEs fallen victim to cyber-attacks since pandemic
Almost four out of teb SMEs in Australia have fallen victim to cyber-attacks since the pandemic began, according to a new study.
Story image
Transport
Third-party automotive apps bear significant privacy risks
Mobile applications for connected cars provide various features to make life easier for motorists, but they can also be a source of risk.
Story image
Malware
Fortinet introduces self-learning AI in latest offering
Fortinet is introducing self-learning AI capabilities in its new network detection and response offering, FortiNDR.
Story image
Vectra AI
Understanding the weight on security leader’s shoulders, and how to shift it
Millions of dollars of government funding and internal budgets are being funnelled into cybersecurity to build resilience against sophisticated threats, indicating how serious this issue has become.
Story image
Ransomware
Employees on the frontline of cyber defense - report
In the first quarter of 2022, employees found themselves more than ever at the frontline of cyber defense, according to a new report from Kroll. 
Story image
ChildFund
ChildFund launches new campaign to protect children online
ChildFund says WEB Safe & Wise aims to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse online while also empowering them to become digitally savvy. 
Story image
Check Point
Check Point and CCTV expert join forces to boost protection
The partnership will involve Check Point Quantum IoT Protect Nano Agent being embedded in Provision-ISR’s CCTV cameras for on-device runtime protection.
Story image
Amazon Web Services / AWS
RedShield leverages AWS to scale cybersecurity services
"Working with AWS gives RedShield the ability to mitigate significant application layer DDoS attacks, helping leaders adopt best practices and security architectures."
Story image
Migration
Let’s clear the cloud visibility haze with app awareness
Increasingly, organisations are heading for the cloud, initiating new born-in-the-cloud architectures and migrating existing applications via ‘lift and shift’ or refactoring.
Story image
Data Protection
Barracuda launches new capabilities for API Protection
"Every business needs this type of critical protection against API vulnerabilities and automated bot attacks," Barracuda says.
Story image
BYOD / Bring Your Own Device
How zero trust can lead the battle against ransomware
SecOps teams champion a zero trust strategy to support the fight against the escalating risk of cybercrime and help monitor threat actors across a network.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Noname Security partners with Netpoleon to target API issues
Specialist API security firm Noname Security has appointed Netpoleon as its distributor in Australia and New Zealand.
Story image
Surveillance
i-PRO releases smallest AI-based surveillance camera on the market
The new i-PRO mini network camera is now available, with a pocket-sized form factor and full AI analytics functionality.
Story image
Artificial Intelligence
Gartner reveals top three tech trends for banks this year
Gartner says generative artificial intelligence, autonomic systems and privacy-enhancing computation are gaining traction in banking and investment services.
Story image
Employment
Tech job moves - Forcepoint, Malwarebytes, SolarWinds & VMware
We round up all job appointments from May 13-20, 2022, in one place to keep you updated with the latest from across the tech industries.
Story image
Remote Working
Successful digital transformation in the hybrid work era is about embracing shifting goalposts
As organisations embraced remote working, many discovered they lacked the infrastructure needed to support history’s first global load test of remote work capabilities.
Story image
VPN
The most common online scams in Australia
No one is safe from online scammers, and many of these scammers have capitalised on the pandemic, using this confusing time to attack more people than ever.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Asia Pacific plagued by sophisticated bad bots - report
The three most common bot attacks were account takeover, content or price scraping, and scalping to obtain limited-availability items.
Story image
Training
Infosec unveils role-guided cybersecurity training roadmaps
Infosec Skills Roles maps hands-on training and certifications to the 12 most in-demand cybersecurity roles to maximise training efficiency.
Story image
Phishing
WhatsApp and QR codes the next scam threat - report
KnowBe4 has warned it expects to see an increase in QR Codes and the WhatsApp chat platform being used for phishing and other scams. 
Story image
Microsoft
Global cybersecurity insurance market worth $11.5b this year
Future Market Insights finds the cybersecurity insurance market is expected to reach USD$11.5 billion in 2022, growing to $61.2 billion in 10 years.
Story image
Phishing
MailGuard warns of new scam targeting Telstra customers
Telstra customers in Australia are being warned of a new scam involving "Unsuccessful Payment" messages.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Accenture - a collective security approach a driving factor for cyber resilience
With the approaching Davos World Economic Forum upon us, it is even more imperative to discuss the impact of cybersecurity on business operations leading into the future.
Story image
Training
Trojan cyber attacks hitting SMBs harder than ever - Kaspersky
In 2022 the number of Trojan-PSW detections increased by almost a quarter compared to the same period in 2021 to reach 4,003,323.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Comcast to use ThreatQuotient for cybersecurity operations
Comcast, the parent company of NBC Universal and SKY Group, has chosen ThreatQ Platform and ThreatQ Investigations to meet their cybersecurity needs.
Story image
Ponemon Institute
Email revealed to be riskiest channel for data loss
More than half (60%) of organisations experienced data loss or exfiltration caused by an employee mistake on email in the last 12 months.
Story image
Ransomware
Alarming surge in Conti Ransomware Group activity - report
A new report has identified a 7.6 per cent increase in the number of vulnerabilities tied to ransomware in Q1 2022.
Story image
Malware
New vulnerabilities found in Nuspire’s Q1 2022 Threat Report
“Threat actors are quickly adjusting their tactics and these exploits tend to get industry attention, but the threat posed by older and attacks still persists."
Story image
Ransomware
APAC organisations fail to disclose ransomware breaches
85% of organisations in APAC were breached by ransomware at least once in the past five years, but only 28% publicly disclosed the incident.
Story image
Cybersecurity
What every CISO must answer to enable a best-in-class security operations program
It has been widely reported recently that South Australian government employees have been the victims of a cyberattack.
Story image
Ransomware
APAC ranks third-highest region targeted by ransomware
Asia Pacific has ranked the third-highest region globally to be targeted by ransomware, according to cybersecurity firm Group-IB.
Story image
Microsoft
Elevation of Privilege the top 2021 Microsoft vulnerability
BeyondTrust has released its 2022 Microsoft Vulnerabilities Report, finding that Elevation of Privilege is the top vulnerability category for the second consecutive year.
Story image
Data Protection
Information management capabilities to meet privacy requirements
Organisations with customers or operations across more than one country face a spate of new and proposed privacy and data protection laws.
Story image
Phishing
Vishing attacks reach all time high - Agari and PhishLabs
"Hybrid vishing campaigns continue to generate stunning numbers, representing 26.1% of total share in volume so far in 2022."
Story image
Customer experience
Gartner recognises Okta for abilities in Access Management
Okta has announced it has been recognised as a Customers' Choice for the fourth time in a row in the Gartner Peer Insights "Voice of the Customer" report.
Story image
Malware
'Alarming' rise in ransomware threats - Verizon report
As criminals look to leverage increasingly sophisticated forms of malware, it is ransomware that continues to prove particularly successful.
Story image
Cyber attacks
Devastating cyber attacks expected to hit energy sector
Energy executives anticipate life, property, and environment-compromising cyber attacks on the sector within the next two years.
Story image
New Relic
New Relic launches vulnerability management platform
New Relic has introduced New Relic Vulnerability Management to help organisations find and address security risks faster and with greater precision.
Story image
Silver Peak
The path to an adaptive, modern network
Managing and securing the network looks different than it did just two years ago—especially given that most of these networks are made up of multi-generations of infrastructure stitched together over time.
Story image
Identity and Access Management
The post-pandemic workforce requires secure IAM capabilities
HID Global discusses what identity and access management means for organisations in today's convoluted digital world.
Story image
Remote Working
Australia’s remote workers face connectivity and security issues
SOTI's new report finds better video conferencing technology and improved security measures are top concerns for remote workers in Australia.
Story image
Managed service provider
Barracuda MSP Day 2022 highlights MSP opportunities
Barracuda Networks has released a report showing global services-related MSP revenue is set to increase by more than a third in 2022 compared to 2021.
Story image
Cybersecurity
More than 40% of banks worried about cloud security - report
Publicis Sapient's new report finds security and the lack of cloud skills and internal understanding of business benefits are big obstacles for banks moving to the cloud.