Manufacturing industry overwhelmed by innovative threat actors

TrapX Security and Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) have released findings of a research that surveyed 150 cyber and IT professionals directly involved in security strategy, control and operations within manufacturing organizations about their current and future concerns.

manufacturing threat

Manufacturing industry under threat

The research findings point to an industry whose security teams are seeing the IT and OT environments converging at a rapid pace. Yet manufacturing organizations are struggling to safeguard OT assets as they are using the same tools to safeguard their IT infrastructure as they are for OT.

As a result, IT teams can’t keep up with growing volumes of security data or the increasing number of security alerts. They lack the right level of visibility and threat intelligence analysis and don’t have the right staff and skills to handle the cybersecurity workload.

Consequently, business operations are being disrupted and cyber-risk is increasing as more than half of the manufacturing organizations surveyed have experienced some type of cybersecurity incident on their OT systems in the last 12 months taking weeks or months to remediate.

IT and OT convergence best practice for manufacturers

Manufacturing organizations have large and growing investments in IT and OT technology to combat a rising threat landscape and achieve more agile business processes. As the research reveals, IT and OT integration is fast becoming a best practice.

49% of organizations say that IT and OT infrastructure are tightly integrated while another 45% claim that there is some integration. This integration will only increase as 77% of respondents expect further IT and OT infrastructure convergence in the future.

However, only 41% percent of organizations employ an IT security team with dedicated OT specialists, while 32% rely on their IT security team alone to protect OT assets. 58% use network technology tactics like IP ranges, VLANs, or microsegmentation to segment IT and OT network traffic.

24% of organizations simply use one common network for IT and OT communications, reducing the visibility and response required for OT-focused attacks.

Common tools and staff may make operational sense, but deploying a plethora of IT security technologies to prepare for the specific threats of OT leaves IT teams unprepared and vulnerable to attack.

As illustrated through this research, IT teams are repeatedly overwhelmed by the growing volumes of security data, visibility gaps, and a lack of staff and skills.

IT teams overwhelmed by volumes of security data

Security teams are getting challenged by the growing volumes of security data, and the increasing number of security alerts. 53% believe that their security operations workload exceeds staff capacity.

37% admitted they must improve their ability to adjust security controls. 58% of surveyed organizations agreed that threat detection and response has grown more difficult.

When asked to provide additional detail on the specific nature of that growing complexity, 45% say they are collecting and processing more security telemetry and 43% say that the volume of security alerts has increased.

Manufacturers are still working in the dark though with 44% citing evolving and changing threats as making threat detection and response more difficult, particularly true as threat actors take advantage of the “fog” of COVID-19.

“The research illustrates a potentially dangerous imbalance between existing security controls and staff capabilities, and a need for more specialized and effective safeguards,” said Jon Oltsik, ESG Senior Principal Analyst and Fellow.

“Manufacturing organizations are consolidating their IT and OT environments to achieve economies of scale and enable new types of business processes. Unfortunately, this advancement carries the growing risk of disruptive cyber-attacks.

“While organizations have deployed numerous technologies for threat detection and response, the data indicates that they are overwhelmed by growing volumes of security data, visibility gaps, and a lack of staff and skills.

“Since they can’t address these challenges with more tools or staff, CISOs really need to seek out more creative approaches for threat detection and response.”

Manufacturing lacks the visibility needed for effective threat detection

As the IT/OT attack surface grows, security teams are spread thinner as they try to keep pace with operations tasks such as threat detection, investigation, incident response, and risk mitigation.

53% agreed that their organization’s OT infrastructure is vulnerable to some type of cyber-attack, while the same number stated that they had already suffered some type of cyber-attack or other security incident in the last 12-24 months that impacted their OT infrastructure.

When asked how long it typically takes for their firm to recover from a cyber-attack, 47% of respondents said between one week and one month, resulting in significant and potentially costly downtime for critical systems.

Manufacturing organizations lack the visibility needed for effective threat detection and response – especially regarding OT assets. Consequently, additional security complexity is unacceptable – any new investments they make must help them simplify security processes and get more out of existing tools and staff.

37% said they must improve their ability to see malicious OT activity, 36% say they must improve their ability to understand OT-focused threat intelligence and 35% believe they must improve their ability to effectively patch vulnerable OT assets.

44% of respondents highlighted deception technology’s invaluable role in helping with threat research (44%), and 56% said that deception technology can be used for threat detection purposes.

55% of the manufacturing organizations surveyed use deception technology today, yet 44% have not made the connection between deception technology and increased attack visibility.

“This research shows that manufacturing organizations are experiencing real challenges when it comes to threat detection and response, particularly for specialized OT assets that are critical for business operations,” said Ori Bach, CEO of TrapX Security.

“This data, and our own experience working with innovators in all sectors of manufacturing, demonstrate there is a clear need for solutions like deception, which can improve cyber defenses and reduce downtime without the need to install agents or disrupt existing security systems and operations.”

MITRE Shield shows why deception is security’s next big thing

Seasoned cybersecurity pros will be familiar with MITRE. Known for its MITRE ATT&CK framework, MITRE helps develop threat models and defensive methodologies for both the private and public sector cybersecurity communities.

MITRE Shield

MITRE recently added to their portfolio and released MITRE Shield, an active defense knowledge base that captures and organizes security techniques in a way that is complementary to the mitigations featured in MITRE ATT&CK.

The MITRE Shield framework focuses on active defense and adversary engagement, which takes the passivity out of network defense. MITRE defines active defense as ranging from “basic cyber defensive capabilities to cyber deception and adversary engagement operations,” which “allow an organization to not only counter current attacks, but also learn more about that adversary and better prepare for new attacks in the future.”

This is the first time that deception has been proactively referenced in a framework from MITRE, and yes, it’s a big deal.

As the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense. Cybercriminals continue to evolve their tactics, and as a result, traditional security and endpoint protections are proving insufficient to defend against today’s sophisticated attackers. Companies can no longer sit back and hope that firewalls or mandatory security training will be enough to protect critical systems and information. Instead, they should consider the “active defense” tactics called for in MITRE Shield to help level the playing field.

Why deception?

The key to deception technology – and why it’s so relevant now – is that it goes beyond simple detection to identify and prevent lateral movement, notoriously one of the most difficult aspects of network defense. The last several months have been especially challenging for security teams, with the pandemic and the sudden shift to remote work leaving many organizations more vulnerable than before. Cybercriminals are acutely aware of this and have been capitalizing on the disruption to launch more attacks.

In fact, the number of data breaches in 2020 has almost doubled (compared to the year before), with more than 3,950 incidents as of August. But what this number doesn’t account for are the breaches that may still be undetected, in which attackers gained access to a company’s network and are performing reconnaissance weeks, or potentially months, before they actually launch an attack.

As they move through a network laterally, cybercriminals stealthily gather information about a company and its assets, allowing them to develop a plan for a more sophisticated and damaging attack down the line. This is where deception and active defense converge – hiding real assets (servers, applications, routers, printers, controllers and more) in a crowd of imposters that look and feel exactly like the real thing. In a deceptive environment, the attacker must be 100% right, otherwise they will waste time and effort collecting bad data in exchange for revealing their tradecraft to the defender.

Deception exists in a shadow network. Traps don’t touch real assets, making it a highly valued solution for even the most diverse environments, including IT, OT and Internet of Things devices. And because traps are not visible to legitimate users or systems and serve only to deceive attackers, they deliver high fidelity alerts and virtually no false positives.

How can companies embrace MITRE Shield using deception?

MITRE Shield currently contains 34 deception-based tactics, all mapped to one of MITRE’s eight active defense categories: Channel, Collect, Contain, Detect, Disrupt, Facilitate, Legitimize and Test. Approximately one third of suggested tactics in the framework are related to deception, which not only shows the power of deception as an active defense strategy, but also provides a roadmap for companies to develop a successful deception posture of their own.

There are three tiers of deceptive assets that companies should consider, depending on the level of forensics desired:

1. Low interaction, which consists of simple fake assets designed to divert cybercriminals away from the real thing, using up their time and resources.

2. Medium interaction, which offers greater insights into the techniques used by cybercriminals, allowing security teams to identify attackers and respond to the attack.

3. High interaction, which provides the most insight into attacker activity, leveraging extended interaction to collect information.

While a company doesn’t have to use all of the deception-based tactics outlined in MITRE Shield to prevent attacks, low interaction decoys are a good place to start, and can be deployed in a matter of minutes. Going forward, CISOs should consider whether it’s time to rethink their security strategy to include more active defense tactics, including deception.