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Protecting Industrial Control Systems from State-Sponsored Hackers

As seen on Dark Reading

On March 15, a significant alert was issued by the US-CERT regarding Russian state-sponsored threat activity against critical infrastructure sectors, including energy, aviation, and critical manufacturing.

The attacks were not random; these were deliberate, multistage, focused attacks designed to gain a foothold within high-impact assets that can be used for any number of nefarious actions.

A new approach to protecting industrial control systems (ICSs) is necessary. The only clear path is to start relying on network data analytics, which is far less vulnerable than other security tools to tampering and erasure by attackers and does not require challenging updates or software installation on legacy systems.

ICSs have always presented notoriously difficult security challenges because their microcode is often embedded within proprietary hardware or aging computer platforms that are difficult or impossible to monitor and secure. The attackers in this case used sophisticated tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) to compromise sensitive systems, and to erase the evidence of their behaviors on the compromised systems.

To understand the inadequacy, or at least incompleteness, of current security mechanisms in ICS systems, note the "cleanup and cover tasks" section of the CERT alert:

In multiple instances, the threat actors created new accounts on the staging targets to perform cleanup operations. The accounts created were used to clear the following Windows event logs: System, Security, Terminal Services, Remote Services, and Audit. The threat actors also removed applications they installed while they were in the network along with any logs produced.

This classic behavior by the threat actors highlights the inherent weaknesses of relying on self-reported data such as logs that can be disabled or altered on compromised assets.

The Critical Role of Network Data

An entire industry has sprung up to try to address this problem.... Keep reading at

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