The increasing prevalence of ransomware attacks poses a significant threat to critical infrastructure worldwide. According to the US Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), critical infrastructure “is the assets, systems, and networks that are vital to the functioning of the economy, public health and national security.” Ransomware attacks that affect critical infrastructure risk having “debilitating effects” on any nation’s ability to function.
It’s time for the critical infrastructure sectors to prepare for the onslaught. Here’s how to understand what’s coming and how to fortify defenses before the damage is done.
What is ransomware?
Ransomware is a type of malware that denies the organization access to its own data files that are necessary for operations. Encrypting these files and demanding a ransom payment for a decryption key, cyberattackers endeavor to put the victim organization in the uncomfortable position where paying the ransom is the fastest, easiest, and cheapest way to regain access to the data. Untraceable digital currencies are often used to make the payoff
Why is critical infrastructure targeted?
Critical infrastructure is like a ransomware magnet. Hackers tend to focus on targets that will yield the highest impact and feel the greatest urgency. There’s nothing like interrupting the flow of clean water or electricity to upset the most people and put the most pressure on those responsible for the service. Critical infrastructure organizations are more likely to fork over the ransom than suffer the dire consequences of a halt to operations and/or the loss of sensitive data.
How successful are these attacks?
Ransomware is a rewarding business. Almost a third (31%) of the critical-infrastructure victims of a single attack choose to cough up the ransom. But whether they pay or not, the attacks don’t stop as there is an even better chance of the hacker getting paid by keeping up the pressure. Companies hit three times or more are even more likely to pay the ransom (42%). This sort of statistic encourages repeat attacks.
What can we do about the scourge of ransomware?
There are many pre-emptive and reactive steps that operators must undertake to make their operations resilient to inevitable ransomware attacks. Here are our recommendations:
- Build a robust risk management framework that can identify, assess, and mitigate ransomware risks in critical infrastructure. Implement the key components, such as risk assessment, vulnerability management, and threat intelligence integration. Radiflow takes an integrated approach that combines its leading threat detection solution, iSID, with its state-of-the-art CIARA Risk Management solution to deliver the necessary precautions against ransomware attacks.
- Strengthen cybersecurity controls to protect critical infrastructure from ransomware attacks. Implement these functions right away: multi-factor authentication, network segmentation, intrusion detection and prevention systems, and endpoint protection measures. Implement security updates frequently and regularly along with a regular patch management program. In the OT environment, patching can often be time-constrained, so prepare ahead of time to take advantage of windows of opportunity such as downtime and scheduled maintenance.
- Plan and conduct regular backup-and-recovery procedures. You could lose your data! Consider offline and offsite backups, secure backup storage, and the testing of backup integrity so that you can recover in case your ransomer doesn’t decrypt your data even if you pay the ransom!. It happens.
- Adopt a comprehensive incident response plan. Despite the best intentions, plans, and preventive solutions, hackers are going to continue to try to break into critical infrastructure operations. The incentives are too great for them to ignore. Be prepared. Document effective incident response (IR) actions that your technical and managerial teams will undertake if and when an attack occurs. Components of an effective IR plan include incident detection, containment, eradication, and recovery. Practice, practice, practice! Undertake regular testing of your IR plan and stay on top of the latest improvements in IR capabilities.
- Create an employee training and awareness program that addresses the importance of educating employees about ransomware risks and promotes a culture of cybersecurity awareness. Cover topics such as phishing awareness, social engineering, and safe online practices. Encourage reporting of suspicious activities and emphasize the role of employees in preventing and responding to ransomware incidents. The threat landscape is always changing and employees come and go. Deliver training sessions regularly.
- Enter into collaborative partnerships and information-sharing activities beyond your organization There is safety in numbers. Organize defense of your entire sector by sharing threat intelligence with your peers. Create sector-specific information sharing and analysis centers (ISACs), and encourage government-industry cooperation.
Ransomware attacks on critical infrastructure will continue to pose a significant threat well into the future. But by implementing proactive and reactive measures, organizations can enhance their preparedness and resilience. Through risk management frameworks, strengthened cybersecurity controls, regular backups, robust incident response planning, regular employee training, and collaborative partnerships, critical infrastructure sectors can mitigate the impact of ransomware incidents. It is imperative to prioritize ransomware preparedness: continuously adapting to evolving threats and working collectively to safeguard critical systems and the uninterrupted delivery of essential services.
Contact us to find out more about Radiflow’s ICS security products and to assess your level of network segmentation.