The Latest Threats to OT Security

September 3, 2023

Stay informed about the latest OT security threats. OT environments have become a prime target for malicious insiders, cybercriminals and hackers who seek to exploit its vulnerabilities via phishing attacks, weak passwords or lack of physical device security. These threats could include insider attacks by internal actors as well as threats posed by outsiders who pose as outsiders – these threats often manifest themselves through phishing scams or through physical device security loopholes.

Infrastructure is a cornerstone of operational network security. This includes routers, switches, network management tools, firewalls and wireless access points.

1. Malicious Insiders

Malicious insiders can pose a threat to an organization by stealing information and damaging operations, often without their knowledge or permission. Such insiders could include employees, contractors, vendors or business partners; their motivation may range from financial gain, revenge or political ideology – and may even belong to criminal or terrorist networks.

Malicious insiders typically fall into four main categories: those who steal data, sabotage your organization, sell sensitive company data to third-parties and engage in industrial espionage. Each type of attacker has unique motivations and may be difficult to detect by conventional cyber security tools.

A compromised insider is defined as an employee who has obtained access to privileged systems and exploits this access for malicious gain, often through phishing campaigns or stolen credentials.

These employees could access systems outside normal operating hours, download large volumes of data without cause or access resources that they aren’t authorized to use. Furthermore, they could send sensitive information out via email.

Turncloaks are another kind of malicious insider who act to damage an organization’s data knowingly. They could be employees, contractors or business partners who harbor animosity against the business or are simply unhappy in their jobs.

The best way to fend off these threats is through early identification – this can be accomplished with regular anti-phishing training or simply watching their online behavior.

One effective way of protecting against cyberattacks is ensuring all devices and OT networks are securely locked down and all access logged and verified – this will prevent malicious parties from gaining unauthorized entry and infecting your office with malware or other threats.

2. Cybercriminals

Cybercriminals pose a threat to operational technology (OT) security by employing malware, phishing attacks, or other means. Furthermore, they can attack networks or websites with Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks which cause damage or disable services – these attacks are known as Denial-of-Service attacks (DoS).

Cyberattacks often result in the theft of sensitive information, financial fraud and identity theft. Cybercriminals use malware to access computers belonging to victims and steal their data – sometimes they even employ social engineering techniques in order to lure users into divulging passwords or bank details that contain confidential data.

Hackers can be organized criminal groups or nation-states. Additionally, they can serve as spies with the purpose of gathering intelligence on an organization.

Insider threats – such as employees, contractors and suppliers – pose another danger to operational security. These individuals with legitimate access credentials often take advantage of them to steal data or disrupt computing systems for economic or personal gain.

Sophisticated hackers may target other companies to sell stolen information on underground markets for a profit, and may even partner with criminal organizations to commit more severe acts.

Phishing attacks are increasingly prevalent and involve sending emails that appear to come from trusted sources, usually containing links or attachments that aim to trick recipients into providing their confidential data.

Ransomware is another type of cybercrime which encrypts files and prevents users from accessing them until they pay a ransom fee to cybercriminals. It has the power to paralyze large organizations, prompting them to close down and lose valuable data.

Cybercriminals can use email extortion as a method to extract money from companies and governments by sending emails that threaten to disable or attack websites, email servers or computer systems belonging to victims unless money is paid them immediately. According to FBI statistics, such incidents occur more than 20 times every month, representing a growing threat.

3. Hackers

Hackers are cybercriminals motivated to breach systems. Hackers typically utilize automated tools and techniques for cyber attacks at scale, making them more efficient than other types of hackers.

As IT and OT systems converge, OT security requires additional layers of defense such as network intrusion prevention systems (NIDS), firewalls and email protection solutions to strengthen it on multiple levels. Furthermore, microsegmentation should be implemented carefully across OT networks for further safeguarding of its protection.

Occupational Technology systems often do not enjoy the same visibility of IT networks, making OT security challenging to ensure. Therefore, to secure these assets effectively and protect them against loss or theft requires asset identification, logging, network access control (NAC) and SIEM solutions that give an organization full visibility over all its assets.

Additionally, operational technology networks (OT) are vulnerable to malware due to employees unwittingly downloading infected files from phishing emails and personal devices connected to an OT network through USB or removable media being infected with it.

State-sponsored hackers, or those working under government contract, can utilize various hacking tools to breach operational technology (OT) security. Such attacks could cause many machines to malfunction and result in lengthy downtimes that disrupt production processes.

Hackers may also be politically or socially motivated, seeking to expose confidential information or garner public awareness. Anonymous and WikiLeaks are two such examples that release sensitive data for political, financial, or other reasons to gain public exposure.

4. Physical Attacks

As operational technology (OT) systems become more complex and connected, they become increasingly susceptible to cyberattacks. Therefore, it’s crucial that your OT security strategy addresses this threat.

An attacker can get around OT cybersecurity protections by exploiting physical vulnerabilities. For example, an attacker could gain entry to your server room and install devices which capture data from your network.

Additionally, hackers can place USB drives or infected devices that enable them to gain control of a network and gain access to sensitive data. They could access employee records or copy company plans containing this data.

Tampering with industrial control systems (ICSs), commonly used to manage industrial equipment such as factories, power plants, and transportation networks.

An attacker with access to these ICSs can gain full control over them and make them perform in ways not possible with traditional security systems – this may include stealing data, disrupting operations or even triggering a breaker trip that shuts down an entire plant.

Mandiant researchers have seen an increasing number of relatively simple attacks that target industrial control systems exposed to the Internet or those using credentials with chronically weak security practices or shared credentials, though this type of cyberattack remains rarer than other forms.

These OT attacks can be swift and simple, yet cause lasting harm to an organization’s bottom line. A tampering attack against a water treatment plant could do serious damage to its infrastructure as well as alter residents’ lives or threaten their health.

5. Natural Disasters

Natural disasters pose a grave threat to operational technology security as they have the power to compromise critical infrastructure such as electric power, water and telecommunications services. Such disruptions have severe implications for emergency responders, hospitals, utilities and government agencies.

They can cause lasting damage to infrastructure and property, forcing masses of people from developing countries to migrate in search of better opportunities elsewhere.

Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, landslides, and flooding are among the most frequent natural disasters, often resulting in devastating injuries for victims – particularly children. Such disasters may even pose threats to human lives.

According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, natural disasters can be classified based on their magnitude or severity, speed of onset and length. Catastrophic hazards like pandemics or large volcanic eruptions typically have worldwide consequences while rapid-onset hazards like flash floods and landslides typically hit quickly with little warning.

Eventful natural disasters have resulted from weather conditions, tectonic activity, air pressure fluctuations, ocean currents or soil erosion over the years and continue to do so today. These processes have caused numerous natural catastrophes over time and continue to do so today.

However, various measures can be taken to avoid natural disasters, including prevention, preparedness and response plans.

There are various financing solutions available to disaster response and reconstruction efforts, including reinsurance, contingent credit lines, catastrophe bonds and insurance.

These measures can be effective in mitigating the adverse impact of natural disasters on OT security and mitigating public perception about a disaster before it escalates and affects critical infrastructure availability.

Ammar Fakhruddin


Ammar brings in 18 years of experience in strategic solutions and product development in Public Sector, Oil & Gas and Healthcare organizations. He loves solving complex real world business and data problems by bringing in leading-edge solutions that are cost effective, improve customer and employee experience. At Propelex he focuses on helping businesses achieve digital excellence using Smart Data & Cybersecurity solutions.

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