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Industrial Networks at Serious Risk of Cyberattack, Study Warns

Michael Behr

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Industrial Networks Cyberattacks
Attacks on industrial companies can have far reaching, potentially fatal consequences for wider society.

Security flaws in industrial networks are putting companies and infrastructure at serious risk of cyberattack, new research has found.

The report was created after analysts from Positive Technologies studied the security systems in place at several industrial companies’ infrastructure.

Security assessments from the company conducted in 2020 revealed that external attackers could penetrate corporate networks at 91% of industrial organisations.

According to the report, the most common vulnerabilities included poor protection of the external network perimeter against hackers penetrating the network.

In addition, it also commonly found device misconfiguration, outdated software, dictionary passwords and flaws in network segmentation and traffic filtering were hampering security.

With access to the internal network, attackers could easily access user credentials and take control of infrastructure in 100% of cases.

In 69% of cases, they could steal sensitive data, including information about partners and company employees, email correspondence, and internal documentation.

However, Positive Technologies warned that the most worrying statistic is that from 75% of the companies studied, attackers could potentially access the technological segment of the network, and 56% could access industrial control systems.

“In our experience, most industrial companies have a very low level of protection against attacks,” the report warned.

The enterprise security specialists warned that the industrial sector was the second most popular target for hackers after the government sector in 2020. It said that 12% of attacks were aimed at industrial companies.

These firms were faced with two major threats – espionage and financial losses. In 2020, hackers were aimed to steal data in 84% of cases while 36% were motivated by financial gain. While hactivism and cyberwar were also reasons behind attacks, they were a minority, at 3% and 2% respectively.


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The Colonial Pipeline attack is a stark illustration of the massive social impact a ransomware attack can have. In May this year, Colonial, the operator of one of the US’s biggest fuel pipelines, shutdown its network after it was targeted by cybercriminals.

This meant that 2.5 million barrels per day of fuel was not reaching the US east coast. This resulted in higher fuel prices and shortages, though panic buying was partly to blame for this.

Less sophisticated, but potentially more destructive, was the attempted Florida water treatment attack in February. A hacker was able to gain access to the system at a water treatment facility and attempted to increase the level of lye in the water by over 100 times.

This level could have proven lethal to some of the 15,000 people who rely on the plant for water.

Michael Behr

Senior Staff Writer

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