How to reduce the risk posed by vulnerabilities in IoT/ICS networks?

IoT/ICS networks and unmanaged devices are soft targets for adversaries, increasing the risk of costly downtime, catastrophic safety and environmental incidents, and theft of sensitive intellectual property.

IoT ICS vulnerabilities

Some of the top CyberX report findings noted that these networks have outdated operating systems (71 percent of sites), use unencrypted passwords (64 percent) and lack automatic antivirus updates (66 percent).

Energy utilities and oil and gas firms, which are generally subject to stricter regulations, fared better than other sectors such as manufacturing, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, mining, transportation and building management systems (CCTV, HVAC, etc.).

The report is based on analyzing real-world traffic from more than 1,800 production IoT/ICS networks across a range of sectors worldwide, making it a more accurate snapshot of the current state of IoT/ICS security than survey-based studies.

Focus on prioritization and compensating controls

Experts agree that organizations can’t fully prevent determined attackers from compromising their networks.

As a result, they recommend prioritizing vulnerability remediation for “crown jewel” assets — critical assets whose compromise would cause a major revenue or safety impact — while implementing compensating controls such as continuous monitoring and behavioral anomaly detection (BAD) to quickly spot intruders before they can cause real damage to operations.

“Our goal is to bring board-level awareness of the risk posed by easily-exploited vulnerabilities in IoT/ICS networks and unmanaged devices — along with practical recommendations about how to reduce it,” said Omer Schneider, CyberX CEO.

“Today’s adversaries — ranging from nation-states to cybercriminals and hacktivists — are highly motivated and capable of compromising our most critical operational systems,” said Nir Giller, CyberX GM and CTO.

“It’s now incumbent on boards and management teams to recognize the risk and ensure appropriate security and governance processes are in place across all their facilities to address it.”

Outdated operating systems

62 percent of sites have unsupported Microsoft Windows boxes such as Windows XP and Windows 2000 that no longer receive regular security patches from Microsoft, making them especially vulnerable to ransomware and destructive malware.

The figure rises to 71 percent with Windows 7 included, which reaches end-of-support status in January 2020.

Unencrypted passwords

64 percent of sites have unencrypted passwords traversing their networks, making it easy for adversaries to compromise additional systems simply by sniffing the network traffic.

Remotely accessible devices

54 percent of sites have devices that can be remotely accessed using standard management protocols such as RDP, SSH and VNC, enabling attackers to pivot undetected from initial footholds to other critical assets.

For example, during the TRITON attack on the safety systems in a petrochemical facility, the adversary leveraged RDP to pivot from the IT network to the OT network in order to deploy its targeted zero-day malware.

Indicators of threats

22 percent of sites exhibited indicators of threats, including suspicious activity such as scan traffic, malicious DNS queries, abnormal HTTP headers, excessive number of connections between devices and malware such as LockerGoga and EternalBlue.

IoT ICS vulnerabilities

Direct internet connections

27 percent of sites analyzed have a direct connection to the internet. Security professionals and bad actors alike know that it takes only one internet-connected device to provide a gateway into IoT/ICS networks for malware and targeted attacks, enabling the subsequent compromise of many more systems across the enterprise.

Stale signatures

No automatic antivirus updates: 66 percent of sites are not automatically updating Windows systems with the latest antivirus definitions. Antivirus is the very first layer of defense against known malware.

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How to reduce the risk posed by vulnerabilities in IoT/ICS networks?