The common energy grid consists of critical infrastructure systems, which include power generation and water treatment, amongst other utility systems. Despite being extremely critical and essential for the sustenance of an economy, these systems are vulnerable to cyberattacks by terrorists and hacktivists.
We are living in a world riddled with cyber conflict; cyber intrusions by Russia, China and other such terrorist countries are infiltrating security defences via cyberattacks. In the old days, the traditional critical infrastructure was built with analogue technology, which made it hack-proof. However, a lot has changed over the years now and cyberattacks on critical infrastructure have become rather common.
In 2015, three Ukrainian utility companies were hit by BlackEnergy malware, which left thousands of homes without power for a few hours, in the least. The malware was targeted at the firm’s SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems, which was initiated as a phishing attack.
In 2020, two consecutive cyberattacks were carried out against Israeli water infrastructure. Even though hackers were not able to succeed in their quest, nevertheless, the attacks were enough to create a dent in the economy’s structure. While this might have been a result of a tussle between Iran and Israel, the feuding countries showed where the true power lies.
The susceptibility of critical infrastructure is clear and measures need to be undertaken to strengthen them against such malicious attacks.
In order to reinforce their security systems, enterprises can follow some basic steps, which can go a long way in securing their defences against cyberattacks.
Patching known vulnerabilities
Like any other security prevention techniques, it’s often advised to patch known vulnerabilities, to minimize the timelines an attacker would take for entering a restricted system. Such vulnerabilities can also exist with temporary devices connected to the network; for example, supplier’s laptops, mobile phones, etc.
Installing security patches on a computer is fairly straightforward. You install the patches and restart the system for them to take effect. With critical infrastructure, restarting the grid is not as easy as it sounds. While a system-wide shut down is an option, operators need to schedule the deluge of fixes for a specific time slot.
Brand names like Germany’s Deutsche Bahn rail system and United Kingdom’s National Health Service are two well-known examples, which fell prey to cyberattacks. Critical infrastructure systems are interconnected, which makes it difficult to isolate the effects of a system update or even service disruption.
Prior to installation, system controllers need to be sure installed patches will not have a cascading effect of negative reactions in the system. This is one of the reasons why such infrastructure patches need to be critically analyzed, before installation.
Reduce attack surfaces
As the name suggests, an attack surface refers to the ways and means a hacker can get into the system. Limiting these attack surfaces, in turn, can reduce the frequency of cyberattacks.
What are surface attacks?
People and devices are two of the most common attack surfaces, as both play an important role in connecting the various internal networks to the broader world.
- Devices: Devices have become one of the most common ways of connecting to the Internet. This has paved the way for cybercriminals to get easy entry into a network. Ransomware and hybrid ransomware attacks have emerged as imminent threats, which are targeted devices. Ransomware is deadly; however, with the emergence of hybrid ransomware, normal ransomware version is combined with viruses and launched onto networks.
- People: People, or employees, are mostly the weakest part of the digital security chain. It’s important to train people to understand the role of phishing, smishing and other hacking tactics, which can cripple the networks via people.
By reducing attack services, an enterprise can lower ongoing costs and concentrate the efforts towards securing devices and people to a small set of resources and locations. This way, the number of people having access to a network and the number of devices connecting to the network can be closely monitored. The data being sent and received via these methods can also be restricted and monitored, as needed.
Secure external network connections
External connections, which connect to the internal networks, need to be reviewed and granted access on a must-have basis only. Sensitive, remote connections should require activation methods to be put into place, which can restrict the level of access to the users. Additionally, accesses can be tweaked for specific time periods only, which would enhance the level of security for critical infrastructure.
On the contrary, if the external connection is not secure, it can be intercepted easily and manipulated by trained hackers. If a hacker manages to gain entry into such networks, they can tweak systems, to gather the privileges of the authorized users. Hackers can also make use of such confidential information, and use it to launch additional hacks, at a different point in time.
A common way to prevent such attacks is by using a VPN for external connections. Some extra methods include, but are not limited to, two-factor authentication methods.
Monitor and Act
Last but not the least, monitoring is the best way to address any security leaks in the systems. The imminent risk is never zero, which means, you always need to be on guard with respect to the system issues.
In order to address the issues, an enterprise needs to discover, detect, fix and respond to such attacks, which can’t be blocked by enhanced security mechanisms, such as access control, encryption, segmentation and filtering. As an ongoing practice, you need to constantly monitor the traffic on the internal and external networks, to prevent any recurring attacks.
How can an enterprise secure its critical infrastructure? Organizations like InstaSafe offer enhanced VPN Alternative services, Zero Trust Application Access, and other products, which are aimed at reducing the effects of cyberattacks.
Address the defects, install security patches and simply take care of the issues, which might become the easy way for hackers. Networks need to be secured, as there is a lot at stake with critical infrastructure. Since the stakes are high, and the impacted population goes into millions and billions, it’s important to take the required steps to secure such networks.