For many, insiders are the greatest threat to industrial safety

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  For Many, Insiders Are the Greatest Hazard to Industrial Safety

By Michael Rothschild, Marketing Director, Indegy

It was only a matter of time before the security threats of the IT community would surface Impact on Operational Technology (1965). OT) environments. Today, OT executives face the same risks that corporate executives maintain at night. IT security has been a topic for almost three decades. However, OT security is relatively new because operating environments are never connected to the outside world and vulnerable to threats like today. The blurring of the boundaries between IT and OT has de facto put industry organizations at the crossroads of security incidents, but not where they think you are. The newest form of danger comes from within.

While the news has talked a lot about cyber threats in industrial environments, insider threats that have long been a problem in the IT security industry pose an equal threat to OT networks. A recent Indegy Labs study found that 86% of respondents rated insiders as the biggest security threat to their organizations. It is important to note that the definition of insiders is not only limited to employees, but also to persons with privileged access to resources such as consultants, contractors, outsourced agents, suppliers, etc.

In addition, insider threats may be based on various motivations and Circumstances including:

  • Malicious Intent – Typically an angry employee or insider who is paid to extract information and / or cause harm to the organization.
  • Human Error – This happens when an employee works inadvertently causing damage and / or downtime due to improper changes to industrial processes / devices or revealing confidential company information.
  • Account Compromise – This is similar to the human error scenario in which an employee unintentionally generates a security incident. Typically, an outsider uses social engineering to cause an employee to disclose sensitive information used to conduct an attack. Social Engineering Techniques Phishing emails, a "call from the IT" requesting the user's ID and password, etc.
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To protect IT environments from insider threats, industrial enterprises should not spend more than that Search for best practices developed by the IT community. Here are the three most important ones:

  • Conduct a risk assessment to identify and fix vulnerabilities such as overprivileged accounts, insiders with access to resources they do not need, orphaned employee accounts, contractors, etc. The results provide a concise directory of threats and a checklist to mitigate these threats.
  • Knowing and Monitoring Attack Vectors There are two primary vectors for insider attacks: using the network and targeting devices directly through serial ports. The latter occurs when a user connects a device to an industrial controller to distribute malware, upload new code, etc. Serial attacks can quickly transfer to and bypass network-based passive detection mechanisms. To detect both types of threats, both network activity and device integrity must be monitored.
  • Unify IT and OT security. Because both environments are often interconnected, an attack that affects the IT network can move laterally into the OT environment. This is a commonly used hacking technique in which reconnaissance attempts are made to identify and exploit vulnerabilities, or social engineering interferes with the network and moves laterally within the perimeter defense. By integrating security tools and the data they generate, you can identify the visibility of IT attacks and IT attacks.

While the insider threat is not getting as well into the media as high-profile cyber-attacks, this is a major concern among operators of industrial equipment. Implementing IT best practices to prevent insider threats in OT environments and unify controls and visibility across both infrastructures is the best recipe for protection.

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About the Author

Michael Rothschild is Marketing Director at Indegy. Michael has a passion for inspiring and motivating world-class marketing teams in product and field marketing. Prior to joining Indegy, Michael was Global Director of Marketing at Thales. Michael is a board member at Rutgers University and volunteers in his spare time as an emergency physician.

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