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The Growing Dangers Of Ransomware In OT Networks

April 17, 2024

Ransomware attacks have become increasingly prevalent, especially as more devices and networks are getting interconnected. The ready availability of malware kits has made launching these attacks relatively straightforward, offering cyber criminals significant opportunities for monetary gain. Any system, whether directly or indirectly connected to the Internet, is susceptible to such threats. 

Instances of compromises to computer and network systems are not new or uncommon. They have been with us for a while. Among the various forms of these attacks, ransomware has emerged as a particularly prevalent threat and this increase is seen in more and more OT systems. In 2021, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) released a fact sheet that emphasized the escalating vulnerability of OT systems to ransomware attacks. 

Ransomware is malicious software designed to restrict access to an OT system until a sum of money is paid. The attackers extort the owners of the system with the aim of obtaining money. Ransomware cyber attacks have transformed from a loose assembly of amateurs experimenting with open-source tools into a fully-fledged business model, offering ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS). 

Beyond IT: Dispelling Misconceptions About Ransomware Threats And OT

There is a common misconception that ransomware attacks exclusively target IT but in recent years, this assumption has proved false. 

OT systems are being targeted by ransomware in different industries and this risk continues to grow. From manufacturing to energy, OT systems are easy targets for ransomware attacks and the assumption that OT systems are immune to these attacks is constantly being proved wrong. Such attacks on OT networks can have dire consequences to daily life, beyond just monetary and business losses. The Colonial Pipeline attack was one such reminder. Apart from a huge financial loss of $5million, this attack led to a short-term fuel shortage and a very real hike in gas prices.

Growing Interconnectivity: A Double-Edged Sword

The interconnectivity of IT and OT is a significant factor in the rising vulnerability of OT systems. Several organizations pay less attention to securing their OT systems and focus only on IT, making OT networks an easy target for cyber attacks. Organizations also put off updating legacy OT systems because it requires too much time and resources. Shutting down a factory for a day, or even a few hours, to apply updates or patches may not be economically feasible. Unfortunately, this can leave OT systems exposed to malicious actors. 

Mitigating Ransomware Threats: A Risk-Based Approach

Cybercriminals are well aware that OT systems are relatively easy to hack and can cause severe, tangible consequences that operators are desperate to avoid.

Just like any cybersecurity challenge, addressing ransomware threats requires a comprehensive risk assessment. No single or specific action can provide foolproof protection against this multifaceted threat. A risk-based response involves understanding all facets of the risk, encompassing threat, vulnerability, and consequence, and tailoring specific responses to each element.

MicroSec has solutions to help mitigate these risks. With a holistic approach to OT cybersecurity, MicroSec’s platform is built for brownfield sites, securing both IP and non-IP protocols. It helps with detecting threats and securing devices in OT environments, preventing a ransomware attack that could disrupt operations and cause huge losses.

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