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How AI and ML can thwart a cybersecurity risk nobody talks about

Hear from CIOs, CTOs, and different C-level and senior execs on knowledge and AI methods on the Future of Work Summit this January 12, 2022. Learn more

Ransomware attackers depend on USB drives to ship malware, leaping the air hole that each one industrial distribution, manufacturing, and utilities depend on as their first line of protection in opposition to cyberattacks. Seventy-nine p.c of USB assaults can doubtlessly disrupt the operational technologies (OT) that energy industrial processing vegetation, in keeping with Honeywell’s Industrial Cybersecurity USB Threat Report 2021.

The research finds the incidence of malware-based USB assaults is likely one of the fastest-growing and most undetectable risk vectors that process-based industries resembling public utilities face at the moment, because the Colonial Pipeline and JBS Foods illustrate. Utilities are additionally being focused by ransomware attackers, because the thwarted ransomware assaults on water processing vegetation in Florida and Northern California geared toward contaminating water provides illustrate. According to Check Point Software Technologies’ ThreatCloud database, U.S. utilities have been attacked 300 times every week with a 50% enhance in simply two months.

Process manufacturing and utilities’ file yr of cybersecurity threats

Ransomware attackers’ have accelerated their means of figuring out the weakest targets and shortly capitalizing on them by exfiltrating knowledge, then threatening to launch it to the general public except the ransom is paid. Process manufacturing vegetation and utilities globally run on Industrial Control Systems (ICS) among the many most porous and least safe enterprises programs. Because Industrial Control Systems (ICS) are simply compromised, they’re a chief goal for ransomware.

A 3rd of ICS computer systems have been attacked within the first half of 2021, in keeping with Kaspersky’s ICS CERT Report.  Kaspersky states that the variety of ICS vulnerabilities reported within the first half of 2021 surged 41%, with most (71%) labeled as excessive severity or important. Attacks on the manufacturing trade elevated practically 300% in 2020 over the amount from the earlier yr, accounting for 22% of all assaults, in keeping with the NTT 2021 Global Threat Intelligence Report (GTIR). The first half of 2021 was the biggest test of industrial cybersecurity in history. Sixty-three p.c of all ICS-related vulnerabilities trigger processing vegetation to lose management of operations, and 71% can obfuscate or block the view of operations instantly.

A SANS 2021 Survey: OT/ICS Cybersecurity finds that 59% of organizations’ best securing problem is integrating legacy OT programs and applied sciences with trendy IT programs. The hole is rising as trendy IT programs change into extra cloud and API-based, making it more difficult to combine with legacy OT applied sciences.


Above: Six out of 10 course of producers and utilities wrestle to combine legacy OT know-how with trendy IT programs, contributing to an incredible cybersecurity hole that dangerous actors, together with ransomware attackers, need to exploit.


USBs: The risk vector nobody talks about 

The SolarWinds assault confirmed how Advanced Persistent Threat (APT)-based breaches may modify reputable executable recordsdata and have them propagate throughout software program provide chains undetected. That’s the identical objective ransomware attackers are attempting to perform through the use of USB drives to ship modified executable recordsdata all through an ICS and infect the complete plant, so the sufferer has no alternative however to pay the ransom.

USB-based threats rose from 19% of all ICS cyberattacks in 2019 to only over 37% in 2020, the second consecutive yr of serious development, in keeping with Honeywell’s report.

Ransomware attackers prioritize USBs as the first assault vector and supply mechanism for processing manufacturing and Utilities targets. Over one in three malware assaults (37%) are purpose-built to be delivered utilizing a USB system.

It’s troubling how superior ransomware code that’s delivered by way of USB has change into. Executable code is designed to impersonate reputable executables whereas additionally having the aptitude to offer unlawful distant entry. Honeywell discovered that 51% can efficiently set up distant entry from a manufacturing facility to a distant location. Over half of breach makes an attempt (52%) in 2020 have been additionally wormable. Ransomware attackers are utilizing SolarWinds as a mannequin to penetrate deep into ICS programs and seize privileged entry credentials, exfiltrate knowledge, and, in some instances, set up command and management.

Honeywell’s knowledge reveals that course of producers and utilities face a significant problem staying at parity with ransomware attackers, APT, and state-sponsored cybercriminal organizations intent on taking management of a whole plant. The flex level of the steadiness of energy is how USB-based ransomware attackers cross the air gaps in course of manufacturing and utility corporations. Utilities have relied on them for many years, and it’s a standard design attribute in legacy ICS configurations. Infected USB drives used all through a plant will cross air gaps with out plant operators, typically realizing contaminated code is on the drives they’re utilizing. Of the vegetation and utilities that efficiently combine OT and IT programs on a single platform, USB-delivered ransomware traverses these programs quicker and results in extra units, recordsdata, and ancillary programs being contaminated.

Improving detection efficacy is the objective

One of legacy ICS’ best weaknesses in relation to cybersecurity is that they aren’t designed to be self-learning and weren’t designed to seize risk knowledge. Instead, they’re real-time course of and manufacturing monitoring programs that present closed-loop visibility and management for manufacturing and course of engineering.

Given their system limitations, it’s not stunning that 46% of identified OT cyberthreats are poorly detected or not detected in any respect. In addition, Honeywell finds that 11% are by no means detected, and most detection engines and methods catch simply 35% of all tried breach makes an attempt.

Of the method producers and utilities taking a zero-trust security-based strategy to fixing their safety challenges, the best ones share a number of widespread traits. They’re utilizing AI and machine studying (ML) applied sciences to create and fine-tune constantly studying anomaly detection guidelines and analytics of occasions, to allow them to establish and reply to incidents and avert assaults. They’re additionally utilizing ML to establish a real incident from false alarms, creating extra exact anomaly detection guidelines and analytics of occasions to answer and mitigate incidents. AI and ML-based methods are additionally powering contribution analytics that improves detection efficacy by prioritizing noise discount over sign amplification. The objective is to cut back noise whereas enhancing sign detection by contextual knowledge workflows.

How AI and machine studying mitigate dangers

Cybersecurity distributors with deep AI and ML experience must step up the tempo of innovation and tackle the problem of figuring out potential threats, then shutting them down. Improving detection efficacy by deciphering knowledge patterns and insights is essential. Honeywell’s research reveals simply how porous ICS programs are, and the way the hole between legacy OT applied sciences and trendy IT programs provides to the dangers of a cyberattack. ICS programs are designed for course of and manufacturing monitoring with closed-loop visibility and management. That’s why a zero trust-based approach that treats each endpoint, risk floor, and identification because the safety perimeter must speed up quicker than ransomware attackers’ capacity to impersonate reputable recordsdata and launch ransomware assaults.


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