ANATOMY OF AN OT ATTACK
Security Advisor Middle East|May 2021
MAHER JADALLAH, SENIOR DIRECTOR - MIDDLE EAST & NORTH AFRICA AT TENABLE, DISCUSSES HOW, INSTEAD OF DEFENDING AGAINST AN ATTACK IN PROGRESS, A MORE SUSTAINABLE APPROACH WOULD BE ONE OF PREVENTION – OF ORGANISATIONS DOING A BETTER JOB OF UNDERSTANDING THEIR SYSTEMS, WHERE AND HOW THOSE SYSTEMS MAY BE EXPOSED, AND PRIORITISING THE THINGS THEY NEED TO PROTECT THESE SYSTEMS.
MAHER JADALLAH
What are the cyber threats organisations face currently?

Attackers thrive during times of uncertainty and the last year has provided plenty for them to work with. The world has changed, perhaps forever, and the way we work has been overhauled. We’ve seen organisations move to accommodate remote working, some overnight, with many looking at what that means for the future. The issue is that, when introducing any new working practice — such as remote working, it is critical to do so securely. Organisations need to think through how this changes the threat landscape and introduce controls to limit and/or address this risk.

With the remote working “hybrid” model likely to continue, at least for the foreseeable, this shift to a remote, distributed workforce has led to a higher volume of critical and confidential information being transmitted electronically. Security leaders must ensure that their strategies are in lockstep with business priorities and can effectively communicate the security programme to business asset owners.

Of course, it’s not just data breaches that are a concern. This expanded infrastructure poses a larger target for attackers and we’ve seen a number of instances where IT systems have been compromised, allowing the bad guys to move laterally and affect operational technology (OT) systems that power our critical infrastructure. The most recent being Colonial Pipeline, which was hit with ransomware that began in the IT environment and, out of precaution, forced the operator to shut down operations.

Another threat vector comes in the form of supply chain attacks. When we think of the SolarWinds breach at the end of 2020, that affected organisations in MENA and globally, threat actors were looking for any entry point from which to cause disruption, steal information and monetize their crimes. The reality is that most organisations struggle to understand the systems they have control over, let alone those of their supply chain.

Knowing which systems are critical to remain operational, where and how those systems are exposed, and prioritising the steps needed to protect those systems from attacks is critically important. It’s imperative that both the public and private sectors recognise the increased threats they face and join forces to remediate the risk posed if we’re to turn the tide back in the defenders favour.

Why are we seeing a rise in successful attacks against OT infrastructure?

Critical service providers are far more impacted than the average organisation if they need to take any systems, let alone all of them, offline for any period of time. Bad actors know this and are actively looking for ways to capitalise on this.

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