Industrial infrastructure, including electricity grids, oil and gas facilities, manufacturing plants and more, has become a tempting targets for cyber attackers, whether they're criminal gangs attempting to make money from ransomware attacks, or nation-state-backed hacking operations out for espionage and disruption.
Recent incidents – such as the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack, and a cyber attacker attempting to modify chemical levels in the drinking water supply at a water-treatment plant in Florida – have demonstrated how industrial infrastructure is vulnerable to hackers – and that attacks against these systems can have a broader impact on the general public.
Many industrial networks have operated on the same technology for decades and the need to secure them against attacks is well known.
SEE: Cybersecurity: Let's get tactical (ZDNet special feature)
But with additional attention on the security around industrial control systems, there's now an opportunity to make sure networks are protected against cyberattacks. But if this opportunity is ignored, it could be costly in the long run, leaving critical infrastructure vulnerable to malicious hackers.
"I think that we're getting to the point now where we had an opportunity to get ahead of this problem, and now this problem caught up with us," Sergio Caltagirone, VP of Threat Intelligence at Dragos, told ZDNet Security Update.
"There's very few opportunities in cybersecurity where you get the benefit of foresight and this is one of those where we still can see a little bit ahead – we're not as far ahead as we should be – but we can see that this is going to be a bigger problem, we all know that."
Action needs to come from the top down: "You have to start at the top level. Boards of directors and government's policy groups need to start putting pressure on the operators – whether they're state operators or quasi-state operations or completely private operations – they need to put pressure on organizations to do something," said Caltagirone.
That's already started in the United States, as President Biden has ordered CISA and NIST to develop cybersecurity performance goals for critical infrastructure.
In the meantime, it's vital that organisations running industrial systems understand their networks, the potential security vulnerabilities they might contain, and who has authorisation to access what. That's key in order to prevent attacks from gaining access to the network in the first place, or detecting unauthorised access as quickly as possible.
"As a hacker you're going to spend months studying the operations of those facilities. And that as a defender is such a critical time where you could have found them and done something, to have prevented them from knowing enough to do what they wanted to do," said Caltagirone.
"We do have a chance to stop it – but you just you have to take the opportunity to do so," he added.
MORE ON CYBERSECURITY
- IIoT security: Why it matters, why it needs to be much better
- Smart cities are a tempting target for cyberattacks, so it's time to secure them now
- Colonial Pipeline hack exposes cracks in US energy defense against cyberattacks
- Ransomware: Hackers took just three days to find this fake industrial network and fill it with malware
- Ransomware gangs now have industrial targets in their sights. That raises the stakes for everyone