ICS-CERT report, a worrying increase of cyber attacks

Pierluigi Paganini July 08, 2012

It’s been long debated the need to protect critical infrastructures from cyber attacks, cyber threats could hit foreign countries causing loss of human lives identically to a conventional attack.

Don’t forget that similar attacks con be organized by state-sponsored hackers or cyber criminals with the different purposes, target destroying or cyber espionage.

Emergency Response Teams of every country are approaching the problem, they are working to complete a census of the structures examining their safety level, these groups of works are also working on awareness programs and information sharing, key activities to mitigate the risks.

Recently the U.S. Industrial Control System Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) has released a report that alerts on the increasing number of attacks against US critical infrastructure between 2009 to 2011, it is registered an impressive growth of the number of incidents, following its progression:

Of the total of 198 incidents, seven resulted in the deployment of onsite incident response teams from ICS-CERT, and twenty-one of the other incidents involved remote analysis efforts by the Advanced Analytics Lab.

The report is organized into three main sections:

  1. The first section provide a summary of incident reports.
  2. The second section examines the onsite response efforts in detail and gives a summary of each deployment;
  3. The third section presents common findings from onsite vulnerability assessments and discusses security gaps that asset owners should address to improve the secure posture of their systems.

In the following picture are reported the charts related the incident reports by sector of the last couple of years,


In the following picture are reported the charts related the incident reports by sector of the last couple of years,  the sectors most affected are water and energy,  in these areas we have a large deployment of control systems that represents privileged targets for cyber attacks.

The concerns related to possible cyber attacks against critical infrastructures is high , we must consider that the total number of attacks observed in the cyber space is dramatically increased, recently have been published several news on government plans, such as Olympic Games project, to invest in cyber warfare and cyber weapons development. The diffusion of dangerous cyber weapons is considerable phenomenon, all around the web several malware are silently working to harm computers in critical plans or to steal sensible information.

Data provided in the report show a dangerous scenario, despite the increase of the number of attacks was predictible, its growth presents a worrying trend.
Kim Legelis, vice president of marketing at Industrial Defender declared:

“While those of us close to critical infrastructure cyber security were aware of the escalating nature of the threat landscape, the level that this report validates was more severe than expected…. In addition, the report provides a baseline to compare future reports and incidents to in the future.”

There is also a good news, despite the rapid increase of the attacks there weren’t identified intrusions into control systems.

The report shows also a conforting reality, the seventeen most serious incidents could have been avoided implementing best practices such as login limitation or properly configured firewall.

The most common attack vector for network intrusion was spear-phishing, used for seven of the 17 incidents. The most sophisticated fied in 11 of the incidents, with the main purpose to steal sensible data.

Fundamental is the risk assessment phase, according Lamar Bailey, director of security research and development at nCircle:

“We need a lot more collaboration between IT and security organizations to dramatically improve the accuracy of risk assessments.”

The guideline prvided by the repost are clear:

  • Conduct detailed censuses of the structures and rated risk assessments to identify the main vulnerabilities and the cyber threats that could exploit them.
  • Define, divulgate and adopt best practices to defend the critical infrastructures.
  • To deal with spear-phishing firms must develop a security training program that will prepare the employees on the possible vector attacks and the main social engineering techniques.

In this scenario we will expect that tha number of attacks will increase in the next year, however the increased level of avareness and the high interest in the matter could avoid serious consequences.

Pierluigi Paganini

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