2021 was a challenging year for manufacturers, energy producers, and utilities. A chaotic pandemic year created an opportunity for threat actors to take advantage of disruption to infrastructure integrity and IT to OT operational dependencies, something they achieved with frightening rapidity and effectiveness.
As many organizations transitioned to a hybrid workforce, novel integrations between IT and OT systems created new vulnerabilities that threat actors exploited, leading to surging ransomware attacks, infrastructure compromise, and other problematic repercussions.
According to one industry survey, 63 percent of respondents indicated that their organization experienced an ICS/OT cybersecurity incident in the past two years. With the average ICS/OT cybersecurity incident costing companies nearly $3 million, organizations have plenty of reasons to improve their defensive posture in the year ahead.
It’s critical that they do. Manufacturers, energy producers, and utilities should not expect heightened cybersecurity risk to subside alongside the pandemic. Instead, they should expect OT-related cybersecurity threats to be a certainty — and more expensive, consequential, and disruptive in the year ahead.
As last year’s Data Breach Investigations Report glibly notes, “money makes the cyber-crime world go round.” In 2022, that price is going up.
For example, in 2020, the average ransomware payment exceeded $200,000, nearly four times the amount from just a year prior. In 2021, several high-profile ransomware payments netted multi-million dollar payouts as organizations and utilities worked to restore system access as quickly as possible.
Organizations should expect ransomware demands to continue increasing in the year ahead. Meanwhile, opportunity cost, regulatory implications, and other factors are making cybersecurity failures increasingly expensive. Therefore, timely and effective investments in holistic defensive capacity are essential to mitigating the financial implications of a cybersecurity incident.
In 2021, cybersecurity failures halted manufacturing operations, exposed sensitive data, and eroded brand reputation – significantly raising the stakes for companies of every size in every sector.
Moving forward, companies should expect that the consequences of a cybersecurity incident will be more severe than ever before. For example, ransomware gangs are increasingly looking to leverage their network access to acquire and leak sensitive company data. Data exfiltration incidents surged in 2020, something that will inevitably continue in 2022.
Most prominently, when utilities and energy producers are compromised, public safety is often at risk as threat actors can disrupt critical services. It’s clear that without proper cyber protection, the consequences of failure are likely to become more extreme each year.
In November 2021, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released a memo to companies completing “time-sensitive financial events,” warning that ransomware gangs are targeting these companies, looking to capitalize on the urgent and public nature of their operations. This warning most prominently applies to the financial sector, where mergers and acquisitions are time-sensitive, and public events, which can be derailed by a ransomware attack.
However, given the prominent attacks on critical infrastructure in the past year, it’s likely that threat actors will look to exploit companies and municipalities with time-sensitive operations, hoping to capitalize on the high-stakes nature of their sector to maximize payment opportunities.
Implementing Solutions That Work
Recognizing the immense challenges posed by today’s cybersecurity threats, manufacturers, energy producers, and utilities should turn to a simple to deploy zero-trust access control platform that can keep companies secure and operational, especially when IT and OT platforms are united.
Taken together, it’s clear that cybersecurity needs to be a top priority for every company in 2022, and they should start preparing today to meet tomorrow’s challenges.