Colonial Pipeline, one of USA’s biggest oil pipeline firms had to shut down its operations due to a ransomware attack.
Hackers steal 1TB sensitive data from Saudi Aramco, the largest petroleum and natural gas company in the world, and threaten to leak it online.
While opening the door to smart systems, information technology has also created gaps that leave these systems open to cyber-attacks.
In the post-pandemic world, smart control systems are increasingly facing threats of ransomware attacks.
What is ransomware and why should you care?
Ransomware is a type of malicious software program that enters a computer network and blocks access to sensitive data by encrypting files. These files are released only when a ransom is paid to hackers.
"With the pandemic prompting remote work, ransomware attacks are up 148%(Data source)"
Increasing ransomware attacks on India
Closer to home, Haldiram, one of India’s top snacks brands, faced a serious ransomware attack. One of the company’s servers was cut off from its network. In a short time, the ransomware spread through the rest of the network. Hackers demanded Rs. 7.5 lakh in ransom.
In 2020, India was recently named among the highest reported ransomware incidents in Southeast Asia.
What can ransomware do to control systems?
In the case of the colonial pipeline attack, ransomware could not take control of the firm’s operational systems. But what could the program do if it had gotten through?
In 2017, researchers simulated a ransomware attack on control systems to answer that question.
Ransomware installed in a model water supply plant allowed the researchers/hackers to manipulate chlorine levels, shut down water valves, and send false readings to monitoring systems.
What’s worse, just one little piece of malware could open 1400 internet-connected PLCs to hacking.
How does a ransomware attack occur?
The ransomware could not penetrate Colonial Pipeline's well-guarded operational systems. Experts believe that it instead entered through gaps in administrative networks, most probably, a dubious e-mail.
"In most cases, hackers will send a phishing email from an address the victim trusts. But that’s not all."
Ransomware attacks can be sent from emails, video downloads, sounds, and are even embedded inside images. They are also evolving to target mobile phones.
Building awareness to avoid ransomware
Ransomware attacks are a serious threat, lurking close to all of us, but developing basic cybersecurity awareness can help us avoid them. You could take some simple actions to develop a culture of cyber-safety in the workplace.
● Train your employees in detecting and avoiding clicking on phishing emails.
● Hold awareness programs and put up posters spreading awareness about cyber-security.
● Create a secure and reliable backup of sensitive data.
Here’s a free cyber-safety poster for you to download for a start!
Learn more about cybersecurity measures for process controls in our blog here
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