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24 September, 2021

Hackers ‘can access networks at 91% of industrial companies’

09 September, 2021

A Russian cyber-research firm, Positive Technologies has reported that industrial companies were the second-most targeted sector by cybercriminals during 2020, and found that external attackers can penetrate corporate networks at 91% of industrial organisations. “Penetration testers” working for the company were able to access to the ICS (industrial control system) networks at 75% of these companies.

Attack vectors for accessing critical systems can be simple, and the potential damage severe. Once attackers have gained access to ICS components, they can shut down production lines, cause equipment failures, initiate chemical spills, and even trigger accidents that could harm or kill employees.

“The level of cyber-security at most industrial companies is too low for comfort,” says Olga Zinenko, a senior analyst at Positive Technologies. “In most cases, Internet-accessible external network perimeters contain weak protection, device configurations contain flaws, and we find a low level of ICS network security and the use of dictionary passwords and outdated software versions present risks.”

The report says that, once inside a network, attackers can steal user credentials and obtain control over the infrastructure. At 69% of companies they can steal sensitive data, including information about employees, email correspondence, and internal documentation. At the 75% of industrial companies whose networks Positive Technologies was able to penetrate, they could also access ICSs in 56% of the cases.

According to the company, industrial organisations attract criminals because of their size, the importance of their processes, and their impact on the world and people’s lives. The report suggests that the main threats are espionage and financial losses. Although security specialists aim to identify possible consequences of cyber-attacks, and to build security systems based on this knowledge, company managers are not keen on any actions that could negatively affect their companies’ operations.

Data theft (84%) was main motive for cyberattacks on industrial companies in 2020, followed by financial gain (36%) and hacktivism (3%)
Chart: Positive Technologies

Protecting industrial networks requires modelling of critical systems to test their parameters, verify the feasibility of business risks, and detect vulnerabilities. But assessing possible cyber-incidents on real-world infrastructures is almost impossible. Positive Technologies recommends that industrial companies should use security specialists to verify the cyber-events that are unacceptable to their business, evaluate their implications, and assess possible damage without disrupting their processes.

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