System Shock: Energy Sector Tops ICS Security Vulnerabilities List

March 28, 2018 @ 8:01 AM
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2 min read

Industrial control systems (ICS) are on cybercriminals’ radar as these historically partitioned technologies face a connected future that depends on remote access and cloud resources.

New data recently revealed a shock to the system: The energy sector is outpacing other industries when it comes to ICS attacks. Security vulnerabilities could generate significant issues for both private corporations and government agencies that fail to adequately prepare.

ICS Security Vulnerabilities Shock the Energy Sector

According to a new report titled “Threat Landscape for Industrial Automation Systems in H2 2017,” Kaspersky Lab detected 322 ICS vulnerabilities in 2017. Of those, 178 affected control systems in the energy industry, followed by 164 impacting critical manufacturing.

Energy also had the highest number of devices targeted, with nearly 40 percent of all industrial control systems under threat. While the bulk of these threats were rated as “medium” or “high” on the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) scale, 60 of 322 were considered “critical.” The report pointed out that all of the most dangerous flaws were related to authentication and could be remotely exploited.

It’s also worth nothing that over 80 percent of the vulnerabilities could be leveraged without authentication and at a distance. Seventeen of the reported flaws included publicly available exploits.

Interestingly, the report found that “attempts to infect ICS computers are accidental and are not part of targeted attacks” in the vast majority of cases. In other words, there’s no great conspiracy to bring down the energy sector: Instead, the recent uptick of these security vulnerabilities demonstrates that energy ICS systems aren’t properly secured.

But even accidental incidents come with real consequences. Compromised control systems could lead to performance problems, service disruptions and lost data.

Generating Improvement

As noted by Dark Reading, companies are often slow to patch any security vulnerability for fear of impacting system functions. What’s more, Dragos reported that 64 percent of ICS components were “insecure by design” in 2017. Even if patches were immediately applied, the risk of compromise might still exist, since these systems were never designed to handle the kind of connectivity now required by digital-first energy organizations.

In addition, according to the Dark Reading piece, there’s a lack of “reasonable guidance” around dealing with these flaws. Organizations don’t have access to best practices when it comes to patching, implementing new security measures and standardizing ICS controls against new threats.

ICS components represent a significant security vulnerability for the energy sector. High-value functions combined with outdated defense makes these tools prime targets for cybercriminals and regular victims of accidental infection. The Kaspersky report suggested that the situation demands improved standardization, increased vendor support and recognition that many legacy ICS solutions are insecure by design.

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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