Critically Overconfident? Execs Double Down on Total Threat Detection

April 12, 2016 @ 8:40 AM
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2 min read

Threat detection is a top priority for the energy sector. On March 31, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security rolled out a nationwide warning about possible attacks to the national electric grid, The Washington Free Beacon reported. As a result, IT professionals and executives alike want at least some assurance that emerging attack vectors aren’t slipping under the radar.

As noted by SC Magazine, however, a new Tripwire report detailed a significant gap between tech pros and C-suite members: While 41 percent of executives believe their organization can detect all cyberthreats, only 17 percent of nonexecutives agreed. Has the C-suite become critically overconfident?

Addition and Division

The numbers don’t add up. PennEnergy stated that 77 percent of energy companies asked said they experienced a rise in successful cyberattacks over the last 12 months, with 78 percent dealing with external threats and 30 percent handling insider issues.

While other industries have also seen a rise in cybercrime — hospitals, schools and even police stations have all come under attack, reports the Star Tribune — the energy sector is “experiencing a disproportionately large increase when compared to other industries,” the Tripwire study noted.

It doesn’t stop there: About 44 percent of respondents said they can’t identify the source of attacks and almost one-fourth don’t have processes in place to identify sensitive or confidential information.

Take the sum and it seems obvious that energy companies need better threat detection. But there’s a divide between the upper echelon and those on the ground. Do the math, and the remainder comes with big risk.

Threat Multiplier

So what’s behind this broad overconfidence? A number of factors conspire to multiply the misconception. First is the nature of Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems, which, if breached, offer virtually unlimited access to corporate networks.

As noted by Dark Reading, for example, attackers leveraged remote SCADA access to breach Ukraine’s electric grid late last year. Since SCADA systems were originally designed as internal networks with little or no outside connectivity, adapting them to the demands of an always-connected network environment comes with significant risk.

However, many execs still don’t see these SCADA systems as a potential point of compromise, and as a result, they don’t focus on the security of these systems. Reports are also a problem. Often, executives get the shiniest reports from staff, giving the impression that cybersecurity and threat detection methods are performing flawlessly rather than struggling to keep up.

Improving Threat Detection

Solving this problem requires a two-fold effort: InfoSec professionals need to get better at clearly articulating threats to non-IT staff, and C-suite members need to ask for the gritty details rather than spit-polished overviews.

The bottom line for energy executives? Threat detection isn’t perfect, and the increasing number of industry-specific threats means its time to double down on insight instead of assuming that no news is good news.

Douglas Bonderud
Freelance Writer

A freelance writer for three years, Doug Bonderud is a Western Canadian with expertise in the fields of technology and innovation. In addition to working for...
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