IT, OT experts having trouble tracking ICS threats

A survey of IT and OT professionals indicated that the is a lack of preparation for a potential cyber security attack against industrial control systems (ICSs), particularly in the energy industry, which faces more cyber attacks than any other industry.

By Gregory Hale, ISSSource March 15, 2016

Almost two-thirds of operational technology (OT) security professionals do not have to ability to accurately track all the threats targeting their networks, a new survey said.

On top of that, 82% of the respondents said a cyber attack on the OT side of the organization could cause physical damage, according to the survey by Tripwire Inc. Then when asked if their organization has the ability to accurately track all the threats targeting their OT networks, 65% replied, "no."

The survey was conducted for Tripwire by Dimensional Research on the cyber security challenges faced by organizations in the energy sector. The study occurred in November 2015, and respondents included over 150 information technology (IT) professionals in the energy, utilities, and oil and gas industries.

Additional findings include:

  • More than three out of four respondents (76%) believe their organizations are targets for cyber attacks that could cause physical damage
  • Seventy-eight percent of respondents said their organizations are potential targets for nation-state cyber attacks
  • One hundred percent of energy executive respondents believe a kinetic cyber attack on operational technology would cause physical damage.

"The incredibly high percentages of these responses underscores the need for these industries to take material steps to improve cyber security," said Tim Erlin, director of IT security and risk strategy for Tripwire. "These threats are not going away. They are getting worse."

The energy sector faces more cyber attacks than any other industry, and attacks on industrial control system (ICS) networks are on the rise, according to the Department of Homeland Security. If successful, these energy sector cyber attacks could have a dramatic physical impact. In December 2015, BlackEnergy malware attacked a power plant in the Ukraine and left over 700,000 customers without electricity.

"We’ve already seen the reality of these responses in the Ukraine mere months after this survey was completed," Erlin said. "There can be no doubt that there is a physical safety risk from cyber attacks targeting the energy industry today. While the situation may seem dire, in many cases there are well understood best practices that can be deployed to materially reduce the risk of successful cyber attacks."

Gregory Hale is the editor and founder of Industrial Safety and Security Source (, a news and information website covering safety and security issues in the manufacturing automation sector. This content originally appeared on Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, CFE Media, Control

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