40% of ICS, Critical Infrastructure Targeted by Cyberattacks

Industrial control systems (ICS) and critical infrastructure are common targets for cybercrime, with almost 40% of them facing a cyber-attack at some point in the second half of last year.

According to Kaspersky Lab ICS research, the percentage of industrial computers under attack grew from 17% in July 2016 to more than 24% in December 2016. Every fourth targeted-attack detected by Kaspersky Lab in 2016 was aimed at industrial targets.

The top three sources of infection were the internet, removable storage devices, and malicious email attachments and scripts embedded in the body of emails. The top three countries with attacked industrial computers: Vietnam (more than 66%), Algeria (over 65%) and Morocco (60%).

As the technology and corporate networks of industrial enterprises become increasingly integrated, more and more cyber-criminals are turning their attention to industrial enterprises as potential targets. By exploiting vulnerabilities in the networks and software used by these enterprises, attackers could steal information related to the production process or even bring down manufacturing operations, leading to technogenic disaster. About 75 vulnerabilities were revealed by Kaspersky Lab in 2016, and 58 of them were marked as maximum critical vulnerabilities.

“Our analysis shows us that blind faith in technology networks’ isolation from the Internet doesn’t work anymore,” said Evgeny Goncharov, head of Critical Infrastructure Defense Department, Kaspersky Lab. “The rise of cyber-threats to critical infrastructure indicates that ICS should be properly secured from malware both inside and outside the perimeter. It is also important to note that according to our observations, the attacks almost always start with the weakest link in any protection—people.”

Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT specialists looked into the cyber-threat landscape faced by ICS systems, and discovered that in the second half of 2016 malware downloads and access to phishing web-pages were blocked on more than 22% of industrial computers. This means that almost every fifth machine at least once faced the risk of infection or credential compromise via the internet.

The desktop computers of engineers and operators working directly with ICS do not usually have direct access to the internet due to the limitations of the technology network in which they are located. However, there are other users that have simultaneous access to the internet and ICS. According to Kaspersky Lab research, these computers—presumably used by system and network administrators, developers and integrators of industrial automation systems and third party contractors who connect to technology networks directly or remotely—can freely connect to the internet because they are not tied to only one industrial network with its inherent limitations.

Yet the internet is not the only thing that threatens the cybersecurity of ICS systems. The danger of infected removable storage devices was another threat spotted by the company’s researchers. During the period of research, 10.9% of computers with ICS software installed (or connected to those that have this software) showed traces of malware when a removable device was connected to them.

Malicious email attachments and scripts embedded in the body of emails were blocked on 8.1% of industrial computers, taking third place. In most cases, attackers use phishing emails to attract the user's attention and disguise malicious files. Malware was most often distributed in the format of office documents such as MS Office and PDF files. Using various techniques, the criminals made sure that people downloaded and ran malware on the industrial organization’s computers.

The research also found that malware, which poses a significant threat to companies around the world, is also dangerous to industrial enterprises. This includes spyware, backdoors, keyloggers, financial malware, ransomware, and wipers. These can completely paralyze the organization’s control over its ICS or can be used for targeted attacks respectively. The latter is possible because of inherent functions that provide an attacker with lots of possibilities for remote control. About 20,000 different malware samples were revealed in industrial automation systems belonging to over 2,000 different malware families.

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