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Cyber Security

Are You Prepared for More OT Threats?

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Written by Rick Peters, CISO Operational Technology, Fortinet

For years, Operational Technology (OT) systems have been working to control everything from factories to transportation networks to utilities. The reality is most citizens don’t think about these systems until there’s a problem. That’s why the attack against Colonial Pipeline in May 2021 was so startling. The attack on a segment of the enterprise transcended IT and resulted in a temporary but severe disruption of the OT based fuel supplies and led the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to issue an advisory urging critical infrastructure (CI) asset owners and operators to take on a heightened state of awareness.

Unfortunately, the attack against Colonial Pipeline isn’t the first or last time an adversarial cyberattack on an OT target will make headlines. Malicious cyberattacks are likely to increase given the opportunities for mission impact, social anxiety, and profit that disrupting systems and stealing intellectual property from OT and IT systems represent. If there’s any silver lining to this high-profile attack it’s that it has put a renewed focus on securing critical OT assets.

OT cyber events also have demonstrated the consequence of failing to invest and commit proportionally to a cybersecurity strategy. For years OT system owners relied on the “air gap” that separated OT systems from IT to protect them. But as more and more OT organizations digitally connect OT infrastructures such as supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems with IT networks, the resulting evaporation of the air gap has dramatically increased the level of risk.

Given this situation, it’s not a surprise that in the “2021 State of Operational Technology and Cybersecurity Report” 9 out of 10 OT organizations experienced at least one intrusion in the past year and 63% had three or more intrusions. To protect cyber-physical assets, OT organizations need to commit to a proactive cybersecurity strategy, paying particular attention to visibility, control, and behavior analysis. It’s critical to protect every point of connection to the outside world to proactively safeguard OT.

OT Is No Longer a Niche Exploit
In the past, exploits against SCADA or industrial control systems (ICS) were viewed as an infrequent subset of highly structured and often nation-state-sponsored targeted attacks. But the OT market is expected to continue to grow through 2027 at a CAGR of 6.40%. Relying on obscurity as a defense strategy doesn’t work anymore; it’s practically an invitation to cybercriminals to penetrate and ultimately compromise OT systems. Although IT-related exploits are still more prevalent, according to the Global Threat Landscape Report from FortiGuard Labs, a growing number of exploits are targeting OT. The long-held perception that ICS exploits are an obscure niche of the cyber threat landscape is simply no longer the case.

Why Now?
In the past, OT attacks were the domain of specialized threat actors who knew how to exploit ICS and SCADA systems. But now, many of those tools are now being packaged as attack kits on the dark web, so they are available to a much broader set of less technical attackers. The motivations behind the attacks range from gaining a profit through extortion, stealing intellectual property, to simply testing infrastructure resilience.

The attacks offer a side benefit in that they create a climate of uncertainty and can force actions by executives in the government and commercial sector. The headlines generated from a successful attack on OT infrastructure only serve to amplify these effects. Attacks on large enterprise businesses in energy and manufacturing and even smaller more discrete intrusions at the municipal utility level are all newsworthy. The alarming cybersecurity news in 2021 reinforces the fact that OT infrastructures require attention to reduce the attack vectors, tactics, and techniques that focus on industrial environments.

The Need for Better Visibility
The rapid expansion in the threat landscape and the increase in attacks demonstrate the increased need for integration between enterprise solutions and operational infrastructure. In most cases, security considerations need to extend to on-premise systems and extend to the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices. It’s also important to have an infrastructure control strategy that restricts and contains suspicious activity and behavior. At a minimum, organizations should implement zero-trust network access (ZTNA), which limits user or device access to only those resources required to perform a specific role or function.

ZTNA also strictly limits the range and level of engagement, which serves to restrict an activity if a system is compromised. OT organisations that put comprehensive security policies in place give themselves an advantage over threat actors and can limit the impact of a breach. OT infrastructure is no longer benefiting from obscurity and the adoption of near-universal convergence of IT and OT networks implies traditionally isolated environments are no longer safe. Organisations must take proactive steps to harden OT environments, including integrating tools and practices designed to protect, detect, and respond to threats in real-time. Although attacks are inevitable, they don’t have to be successful.

Channel Talk

Entrust Signs Up CyberKnight as New Distributor for the Middle East Region

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Entrust has announced its new distribution partnership with CyberKnight to address compliance and simplify cyber threat management. In line with evolving regional compliance regulations and standards, Entrust’s new partnership with CyberKnight as its newest regional distributor will see the two companies jointly build solutions for the Middle East market that achieve the highest standards of cyber security.

Entrust and CyberKnight are strategically aligned on their security vision with a ‘Zero Trust’ philosophy at its core. With the aim of increasing access to the highest standards of security for Middle East customers, Entrust’s new partnership with CyberKnight will further enable the delivery of digital security solutions to customers, by tapping into CyberKnight’s local network to offer advice, education, expertise, and confidence.

“Digital transformation in the Middle East continues to evolve at a phenomenal pace, especially as the demands of the past two years called for a rapid implementation of cloud-based systems to manage the unprecedented shift to remote workforces,” said Scott Kemish, Global Vice President Channel Sales, Entrust. “In order to support local customers championing cloud adoption while meeting the requirements of local compliance regulations, as well as protecting themselves against an all-time-high of cybercrime, we have entered a stage of channel development that requires our channel distribution partners to stand up and make a difference; CyberKnight has all of the right attributes that we are looking for in the market.”

“Our partnership with CyberKnight further cements our commitment to the region, and we look forward to helping more customers transform their digital security in line with the requirements of this new age,” Scott continued. Over the last two years, the rapid adoption of cloud solutions to enable remote working resulted in an increase in cybercrime globally, as it provided cybercriminals more opportunities to target victims at home. Cybercrime is set to cost the global economy $10.5 trillion annually by 2025. And industry research reveals that, in the UAE, the average cost of remediating a ransomware attack is over $500,000.

“The pandemic has reminded us that cybercriminals are constantly fine-tuning their skills and techniques. If we do not help our customers do the same, then they will be playing catch-up,” said Avinash Advani, Founder & CEO of CyberKnight. “Our partnership with Entrust as our newest vendor will enable us to continue helping customers fill the existing gap between their digital transformation efforts, and their security posture by securing their digital ecosystems as well as supporting them with their zero-trust security journey. We are very excited about working with them to further support our local customers across the region.

Entrust’s certificate solutions, PKI, identity and access management, encryption key management and hardware security modules are available to local customers through the partnership. Later this year, Entrust will join CyberKnight’s annual roadshow, set to take place in November 2022.

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Cyber Security

The Rising Risk of Ransomware Attacks on Organisations and How to Mitigate it

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According to the 2022 SonicWall Cyber Threat Report, “ransomware volume increased 105% year over year and is up 232% since 2019.” With the risk of ransomware attacks continuing to rise, it’s crucial to shield your organization from these attacks to avoid unwanted financial fallout.

Ransomware attacks commonly target an organization’s file servers and databases using malicious code to encrypt files such as documents, images, and videos on the system. Ransomware can also be programmed to find vulnerabilities on the network and use these to spread to other systems in an organization. Ransomware attacks are typically executed through social engineering like widespread phishing attacks, but cybercriminals can also specifically target a certain entity, sometimes a popular one. These attacks have the potential to cripple an entire organization’s database.

Once encrypted by ransomware, files are almost impossible to retrieve without the decryption key. To get this key, the victim is demanded to pay a ransom—often millions of dollars—within a short timeframe, usually 24 to 48 hours. If the victim organization keeps a backup of its files, then it’ll be able to restore those files and avoid paying the ransom. If not, the organization often has no option but to pay the ransom.

However, if you fall victim to a ransomware attack, it’s strongly recommended that you don’t pay the ransom to regain access to your encrypted files. This is because you are relying on the integrity of a cybercriminal. The cybercriminal may not give you the decryption key after the transaction or, even worse, they may continue to target your organization and repeatedly demand higher ransoms now that they know you’re willing to pay.

In recent years, it has become much easier to develop ransomware, resulting in the continued rise in ransomware attacks. Cybercriminals can develop and execute a ransomware attack with readily available open-source code and with easy-to-use drag-and-drop platforms. It is also hard to track these cybercriminals because transactions involving ransomware are commonly made using cryptocurrency.

Ransomware attacks can result in exploitation and loss of your organization’s critical and confidential data. But there are steps you can take to prevent and mitigate these attacks.

Back-Up Your Data
Take regular backups of all your files and data; this way, even if your system is infected, you can erase the infected files and recover them using your backups. This cannot prevent a ransomware attack, but it can mitigate the risk of losing all your data.

Keep Your System and Software Up-to-Date
Maintain a healthy patching routine. This includes updating your software as soon as possible when patches for security vulnerabilities are released by vendors. To keep your device secure from ransomware attacks, use a security solution that can identify these attacks at their earliest stages and mitigate their impact.

Be Careful Where You Click
Beware of social engineering attacks and email scams, and avoid downloading files from untrusted sources as these can result in your system being exploited by malicious software like ransomware. What makes social engineering attacks so dangerous is that they take advantage of human error rather than system vulnerabilities.

Create Awareness Among Employees About Ransomware Attacks
Since human error is a major vector cybercriminal manipulate to carry out ransomware attacks, it is essential to educate and train employees on social engineering and email phishing attacks to effectively secure your organization against them.

ManageEngine’s security information and event management (SIEM) solutions protect your enterprise network from cyberattacks and insider threats. SIEM solutions collect and analyze the security data generated by your devices in real-time, alerting you about vulnerabilities, indicators of compromise, and any suspicious activity to help you mitigate the risk of ransomware attacks.

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Cyber Security

Ransomware Hit 59% of UAE Organizations Surveyed for Sophos’ Annual “State of Ransomware 2022”

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Sophos has released its annual international survey and review of real-world ransomware experiences in the State of Ransomware 2022. The report shows that 59% of UAE organizations surveyed were hit with ransomware in 2021, up from 38% in 2020.

The report summarizes the impact of ransomware on 5,600 mid-sized organizations in 31 countries across Europe, the Americas, Asia-Pacific, and Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. The main findings for the UAE in the State of Ransomware 2022 global survey, which covers ransomware incidents experienced during 2021, as well as related cyber insurance issues, include:

  • Many organizations rely on cyber insurance to help them recover from a ransomware attack – 85% of mid-sized organizations had cyber insurance that covers them in the event of a ransomware attack – and, in 100% of incidents, the insurer paid some or all the costs incurred.
  • Ninety-eight percent of those with cyber insurance said that their experience of getting it has changed over the last 12 months, with higher demands for cybersecurity measures, more complex or expensive policies, and fewer organizations offering insurance protection.

“The findings suggest we may have reached a peak in the evolutionary journey of ransomware, where attackers’ greed for ever higher ransom payments is colliding head-on with a hardening of the cyber insurance market as insurers increasingly seek to reduce their ransomware risk and exposure,” said Wisniewski. “In recent years, it has become increasingly easy for cybercriminals to deploy ransomware, with almost everything available as-a-service. Second, many cyber insurance providers have covered a wide range of ransomware recovery costs, including the ransom, likely contributing to ever higher ransom demands. However, the results indicate that cyber insurance is getting tougher and in the future ransomware victims may become less willing or less able to pay sky-high ransoms. Sadly, this is unlikely to reduce the overall risk of a ransomware attack. Ransomware attacks are not as resource intensive as some other, more hand-crafted cyberattacks, so any return is a return worth grabbing and cybercriminals will continue to go after the low hanging fruit.”

Sophos recommends the following best practices to help defend against ransomware and related cyberattacks:

  1. Install and maintain high-quality defenses across all points in the organization’s environment. Review security controls regularly and make sure they continue to meet the organization’s needs.
  2. Proactively hunt for threats to identify and stop adversaries before they can execute their attack – if the team lacks the time or skills to do this in house, outsource to a Managed Detection and Response (MDR) specialist.
  3. Harden the IT environment by searching for and closing key security gaps: unpatched devices, unprotected machines, open RDP ports, etc. Extended Detection and Response (XDR) solutions are ideal for this purpose.
  4. Prepare for the worst. Know what to do if a cyber incident occurs and keep the plan updated.
  5. Make backups, and practice restoring from them so that the organization can get back up and running as soon as possible, with minimum disruption.
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