Come gli attacchi informatici distruggono le infrastrutture critiche

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07
Jul 2021
07
Jul 2021
Operational technology does not need to be directly targeted to be shut down by an attack. This blog discusses how cyber-attacks can disrupt the continuity of operations by creating safety concerns, as well as the limits of securing IT and OT in isolation on today’s threat landscape.

Balancing Operational Continuity and Safety in Critical Infrastructure

The recent high-profile attacks against Colonial Pipeline and JBS Foods highlight that operational technology (OT) — the devices that drive gas flows and food processing, along with essentially all other machine-driven physical processes — does not need to be directly targeted in order to be shut down as the result of a cyber-attack.

Indeed, in the Colonial Pipeline incident, the information technology (IT) systems were reportedly compromised, with operations shut down intentionally out of an abundance of caution, that is, so as to not risk the attack spreading to OT and threatening safety. This highlights that threats to both human and environmental safety, along with uncertainty as to the scope of infection, present risk factors for these sensitive industrial environments.

Continuity through availability and integrity

In most countries, critical infrastructure (CI) — ranging from power grids and pipelines to transportation and health care — must maintain continuous activity. The recent ransomware attack against Colonial Pipeline demonstrates why this is the case, where gas shortages due to the compromise led to dangerous panic buys and long lines at the pumps.

Ensuring continuous operation of critical infrastructure requires safeguarding the availability and integrity of machinery. This means that organizations overseeing critical infrastructure must foresee any possible risks and implement systems, procedures, and technologies that mitigate or remove these risks so as to keep their operations running.

Operational demand versus safety

Alongside this requirement for operational continuity, and often in opposition to it, is the requirement for operational safety. These requirements can be in opposition because operational continuity demands that devices remain up and running at all costs, and operational safety demands that humans and the environment be protected at all costs.

Safety measures in critical infrastructure have improved and become increasingly prioritized over the last 50 years following numerous high-profile incidents, such as the Bhopal chemical disaster, the Texas City refinery explosion, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Appropriate safety precautions could have likely prevented these incidents, but at the expense of operational continuity.

Consequently, administrators of critical infrastructure have to balance the very real threat that an incident may pose to both human life and the environment with the demand to remain operational at all times. More often than not, the final decision regarding what constitutes an acceptable risk is determined by budgets and cost-benefit analyses.

Cyber-attack: A rising risk profile for critical infrastructure

In 2010, the discovery of the Stuxnet malware — which resulted in a nuclear facility in Iran having its centrifuges ruined via compromised programmable logic controllers (PLCs) — demonstrated that critical infrastructure could be targeted by a cyber-attack.

At the time of Stuxnet, critical infrastructure industries used computers designed to ensure operational continuity with little regard for cyber security, as at the time the risk of a cyber-attack seemed either non-existent or vanishingly low. Since then, a number of attacks targeting industrial environments that have emerged on the global threat landscape.

Figure 1: An overview of distinctive methods used in attacks against industrial environments

Classic strains of industrial malware, such as Stuxnet, Triton, and Industroyer, have historically been installed via removable media, such as USB. This is because OT networks are traditionally segregated from the Internet in what is known as an ‘air gap.’ And this remains a prevalent vector of attack, with a study recently finding that cyber-threats installed via USB and other external media doubled in 2021, with 79% of these holding the potential to disrupt OT.

In many ways, operational demands in the subsequent 10 years have made critical infrastructure even more vulnerable. These include the convergence of information technology and operational technology (IT/OT convergence), the adoption of devices in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and the deprecation of manual back-up systems. This means that OT can be disrupted by cyber-attacks that first target IT systems, rather than having to be installed manually via external media.

At the same time, recent government initiatives — such as the Department of Energy’s 100-day ‘cyber sprint’ to protect electricity operations and President Biden’s Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity — and regulatory frameworks and directives such as the EU’s NIS directive have either encouraged or mandated that critical infrastructure industries start addressing this new risk.

With the severe and persistent threat that cyber-attacks pose to critical infrastructure, and the increasing calls to address the issue, the question remains as to how to best achieve robust cyber defense.

Assessing the risk

To claim administrators of critical infrastructure are ignorant or oblivious to the threat posed by cyber-attacks would be unfair. Many organizations have implemented changes to mitigate or remove the risk either as a result of regulation or their own forward thinking.

However, these projects can take years, even decades. High costs and ever-changing operational demand also mean that these projects may never fully remove the risk.

As a result, many operators may understand the threat of a cyber-attack but not be in a position to do anything about it in the short or medium term. Instead, procedures have to be put in place to minimize risk even if this threatens operational continuity.

For example, a risk assessment may decide it is best to shut down all OT operations in the event of a cyber-attack in order to avoid a major accident. This abundance of caution is forced upon operators, who do not have the ability to immediately confirm the boundaries of a compromise. The prevalence of cyber insurance provides this option with further appeal. Any losses incurred by stopping operations can theoretically be recouped and the risk is therefore transferred.

While the full details of the Colonial Pipeline ransomware incident are still to be determined, the sequence of events outlined below provides a plausible explanation for how a cyber-attack could take down critical infrastructure, even when that cyber-attack does not reach or even target OT systems. Indeed, the CEO of Colonial Pipeline, in a testimony to congress, confirmed “the imperative to isolate and contain the attack to help ensure the malware did not spread to the operational technology network, which controls our pipeline operations, if it had not already.”

Figure 2: A sequence of events which may lead to critical infrastructure being shut down by a cyber-attack, even when that cyber-attack doesn’t directly impact OT networks

The limits of securing IT or OT in isolation

The emergence of OT cyber security solutions in the last five years demonstrates that critical infrastructure industries are trying to find a way to address the risks posed by cyber-attacks. But these solutions have limited scope, as they assume IT and OT are separated and use legacy security techniques such as malware signatures and patch management.

The 2021 SANS ICS Security Summit highlighted how the OT security community suffers from a lack of visibility in knowing and understanding their networks. For many organizations, simply determining whether an unusual incident is an attack or the result of a software error is a challenge.

Given that most OT cyber-attacks actually start in IT networks before pivoting into OT, investing in an IT security solution rather than an OT-specific solution may at first seem like a better business decision. But IT solutions fall short if an attacker successfully pivots into the OT network, or if the attacker is a rogue insider who already has direct access to the OT network. A siloed approach to securing either IT or OT in isolation will thus fall short of the full scope needed to safeguard industrial systems.

It is clear that a mature security posture for critical infrastructure would include security solutions for both IT and OT. Even then, using separate solutions to protect the IT and OT networks is limited, as it presents challenges when defending network boundaries and detecting incidents when an attacker pivots from IT to OT. Under time pressure, a security team does not want changes in visibility, detection, language or interface while trying to determine whether a threat crossed the ‘boundary’ between IT and OT.

Separate solutions can also make detecting an attacker abusing traditional IT attack TTPs within an OT network much harder if the security team is relying on a purely OT solution to defend the OT environment. Examples of this include the abuse of IT remote management tools to affect industrial environments, such as in the suspected cyber-attack at the Florida water facility earlier this year.

Using AI to minimize cyber risk and maximize cyber safety

In contrast, Darktrace AI is able to defend an entire cyber ecosystem estate, building a ‘pattern of life’ across IT and OT, as well as the points at which they converge. Consequently, cyber security teams can use a single pane of glass to detect and respond to cyber-attacks as they emerge and develop, regardless of where they are in the environment.

Use cases for Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI include containing pre-existing threats to maintain continuous operations. This was seen when Darktrace’s AI detected pre-existing infections and acted autonomously to contain the threat, allowing the operator to leave infected IIoT devices active while waiting for replacements. Darktrace can also thwart ransomware in IT before it can spread into OT, as when Darktrace detected a ransomware attack targeting a supplier for critical infrastructure in North America at its earliest stages.

Darktrace’s unified protection, including visibility and early detection of zero-days, empowers security teams to overcome uncertainty and make a confident decision not to shut down operations. Darktrace has already demonstrated this ability in the wild, and allows organizations to understand normal machine and human behavior in order to enforce this behavior, even in the face of an emerging cyber-attack.

INSIDE THE SOC
Darktrace cyber analysts are world-class experts in threat intelligence, threat hunting and incident response, and provide 24/7 SOC support to thousands of Darktrace customers around the globe. Inside the SOC is exclusively authored by these experts, providing analysis of cyber incidents and threat trends, based on real-world experience in the field.
AUTHOR
ABOUT ThE AUTHOR
Oakley Cox
Analyst Technical Director, APAC

Oakley is a technical expert with 5 years’ experience as a Cyber Analyst. After leading a team of Cyber Analysts at the Cambridge headquarters, he relocated to New Zealand and now oversees the defense of critical infrastructure and industrial control systems across the APAC region. His research into cyber-physical security has been published by Cyber Security journals and CISA. Oakley is GIAC certified in Response and Industrial Defense (GRID), and has a Doctorate (PhD) from the University of Oxford.

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Email

Looking Beyond Secure Email Gateways with the Latest Innovations to Darktrace/Email

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09
Apr 2024

Organizations Should Demand More from their Email Security

In response to a more intricate threat landscape, organizations should view email security as a critical component of their defense-in-depth strategy, rather than defending the inbox alone with a traditional Secure Email Gateway (SEG). Organizations need more than a traditional gateway – that doubles, instead of replaces, the capabilities provided by native security vendor – and require an equally granular degree of analysis across all messaging, including inbound, outbound, and lateral mail, plus Teams messages.  

Darktrace/Email is the industry’s most advanced cloud email security, powered by Self-Learning AI. It combines AI techniques to exceed the accuracy and efficiency of leading security solutions, and is the only security built to elevate, not duplicate, native email security.  

With its largest update ever, Darktrace/Email introduces the following innovations, finally allowing security teams to look beyond secure email gateways with autonomous AI:

  • AI-augmented data loss prevention to stop the entire spectrum of outbound mail threats
  • an easy way to deploy DMARC quickly with AI
  • major enhancements to streamline SOC workflows and increase the detection of sophisticated phishing links
  • expansion of Darktrace’s leading AI prevention to lateral mail, account compromise and Microsoft Teams

What’s New with Darktrace/Email  

Data Loss Prevention  

Block the entire spectrum of outbound mail threats with advanced data loss prevention that builds on tags in native email to stop unknown, accidental, and malicious data loss

Darktrace understands normal at individual user, group and organization level with a proven AI that detects abnormal user behavior and dynamic content changes. Using this understanding, Darktrace/Email actions outbound emails to stop unknown, accidental and malicious data loss.  

Traditional DLP solutions only take into account classified data, which relies on the manual input of labelling each data piece, or creating rules to catch pattern matches that try to stop data of certain types leaving the organization. But in today’s world of constantly changing data, regular expression and fingerprinting detection are no longer enough.

  • Human error – Because it understands normal for every user, Darktrace/Email can recognize cases of misdirected emails. Even if the data is correctly labelled or insensitive, Darktrace recognizes when the context in which it is being sent could be a case of data loss and warns the user.  
  • Unclassified data – Whereas traditional DLP solutions can only take action on classified data, Darktrace analyzes the range of data that is either pending labels or can’t be labeled with typical capabilities due to its understanding of the content and context of every email.  
  • Insider threat – If a malicious actor has compromised an account, data exfiltration may still be attempted on encrypted, intellectual property, or other forms of unlabelled data to avoid detection. Darktrace analyses user behaviour to catch cases of unusual data exfiltration from individual accounts.

And classification efforts already in place aren’t wasted – Darktrace/Email extends Microsoft Purview policies and sensitivity labels to avoid duplicate workflows for the security team, combining the best of both approaches to ensure organizations maintain control and visibility over their data.

End User and Security Workflows

Achieve more than 60% improvement in the quality of end-user phishing reports and detection of sophisticated malicious weblinks1

Darktrace/Email improves end-user reporting from the ground up to save security team resource. Employees will always be on the front line of email security – while other solutions assume that end-user reporting is automatically of poor quality, Darktrace prioritizes improving users’ security awareness to increase the quality of end-user reporting from day one.  

Users are empowered to assess and report suspicious activity with contextual banners and Cyber AI Analyst generated narratives for potentially suspicious emails, resulting in 60% fewer benign emails reported.  

Out of the higher-quality emails that end up being reported, the next step is to reduce the amount of emails that reach the SOC. Darktrace/Email’s Mailbox Security Assistant automates their triage with secondary analysis combining additional behavioral signals – using x20 more metrics than previously – with advanced link analysis to detect 70% more sophisticated malicious phishing links.2 This directly alleviates the burden of manual triage for security analysts.

For the emails that are received by the SOC, Darktrace/Email uses automation to reduce time spent investigating per incident. With live inbox view, security teams gain access to a centralized platform that combines intuitive search capabilities, Cyber AI Analyst reports, and mobile application access. Analysts can take remediation actions from within Darktrace/Email, eliminating console hopping and accelerating incident response.

Darktrace takes a user-focused and business-centric approach to email security, in contrast to the attack-centric rules and signatures approach of secure email gateways

Microsoft Teams

Detect threats within your Teams environment such as account compromise, phishing, malware and data loss

Around 83% of Fortune 500 companies rely on Microsoft Office products and services, particularly Teams and SharePoint.3

Darktrace now leverages the same behavioral AI techniques for Microsoft customers across 365 and Teams, allowing organizations to detect threats and signals of account compromise within their Teams environment including social engineering, malware and data loss.  

The primary use case for Microsoft Teams protection is as a potential entry vector. While messaging has traditionally been internal only, as organizations open up it is becoming an entry vector which needs to be treated with the same level of caution as email. That’s why we’re bringing our proven AI approach to Microsoft Teams, that understands the user behind the message.  

Anomalous messaging behavior is also a highly relevant indicator of whether a user has been compromised. Unlike other solutions that analyze Microsoft Teams content which focus on payloads, Darktrace goes beyond basic link and sandbox analysis and looks at actual user behavior from both a content and context perspective. This linguistic understanding isn’t bound by the requirement to match a signature to a malicious payload, rather it looks at the context in which the message has been delivered. From this analysis, Darktrace can spot the early symptoms of account compromise such as early-stage social engineering before a payload is delivered.

Lateral Mail Analysis

Detect and respond to internal mailflow with multi-layered AI to prevent account takeover, lateral phishing and data leaks

The industry’s most robust account takeover protection now prevents lateral mail account compromise. Darktrace has always looked at internal mail to inform inbound and outbound decisions, but will now elevate suspicious lateral mail behaviour using the same AI techniques for inbound, outbound and Teams analysis.

Darktrace integrates signals from across the entire mailflow and communication patterns to determine symptoms of account compromise, now including lateral mailflow

Unlike other solutions which only analyze payloads, Darktrace analyzes a whole range of signals to catch lateral movement before a payload is delivered. Contributing yet another layer to the AI behavioral profile for each user, security teams can now use signals from lateral mail to spot the early symptoms of account takeover and take autonomous actions to prevent further compromise.

DMARC

Gain in-depth visibility and control of 3rd parties using your domain with an industry-first AI-assisted DMARC

Darktrace has created the easiest path to brand protection and compliance with the new Darktrace/DMARC. This new capability continuously stops spoofing and phishing from the enterprise domain, while automatically enhancing email security and reducing the attack surface.

Darktrace/DMARC helps to upskill businesses by providing step by step guidance and automated record suggestions provide a clear, efficient road to enforcement. It allows organizations to quickly achieve compliance with requirements from Google, Yahoo, and others, to ensure that their emails are reaching mailboxes.  

Meanwhile, Darktrace/DMARC helps to reduce the overall attack surface by providing visibility over shadow-IT and third-party vendors sending on behalf of an organization’s brand, while informing recipients when emails from their domains are sent from un-authenticated DMARC source.

Darktrace/DMARC integrates with the wider Darktrace product platform, sharing insights to help further secure your business across Email Attack Path and Attack Surface management.

Conclusion

To learn more about the new innovations to Darktrace/Email download the solution brief here.

All of the new updates to Darktrace/Email sit within the new Darktrace ActiveAI Security Platform, creating a feedback loop between email security and the rest of the digital estate for better protection. Click to read more about the Darktrace ActiveAI Security Platform or to hear about the latest innovations to Darktrace/OT, the most comprehensive prevention, detection, and response solution purpose built for critical infrastructures.  

Learn about the intersection of cyber and AI by downloading the State of AI Cyber Security 2024 report to discover global findings that may surprise you, insights from security leaders, and recommendations for addressing today’s top challenges that you may face, too.

References

[1] Internal Darktrace Research

[2] Internal Darktrace Research

[3] Essential Microsoft Office Statistics in 2024

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Carlos Gray
Product Manager

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Managing Risk Beyond CVE Scores With the Latest Innovations to Darktrace/OT

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09
Apr 2024

Identifying Cyber Risk in Industrial Organizations

Compromised OT devices in ICS and SCADA environments pose significant physical risks, even endangering lives. However, identifying CVEs in the multitude of complex OT devices is labor-intensive and time-consuming, draining valuable resources.

Even after identifying a vulnerability, implementing a patch presents its own challenges limited maintenance windows and the need for uninterrupted operations strain IT and OT teams often leading organizations to prioritize availability over security leading vulnerabilities remaining unresolved for over 5 years on average. (1)

Darktrace’s New Innovation

Darktrace is an industry leader in cybersecurity with 10+ years of experience securing OT environments where we take a fundamentally different approach using Self-Learning AI to enhance threat detection and response.

Continuing to combat the expanding threat landscape, Darktrace is excited to announce new capabilities that enable a contextualized and proactive approach to managing cyber risk at industrial organizations.

Today we launch an innovation to our OT Cybersecurity solution, Darktrace/OT, that will add a layer of proactivity, enabling a comprehensive approach to risk management. This industry leading innovation for Darktrace/OT moves beyond CVE scores to redefine vulnerability management for critical infrastructure, tackling the full breadth of risks not limited by traditional controls.  

Darktrace/OT is the only OT security solution with comprehensive Risk Management which includes:

  • Contextualized risk analysis unique to your organization
  • The most realistic evaluation and prioritization of OT risk
  • Effectively mitigate risk across your OT infrastructure, with and without patching.
  • The only OT security solution that evaluates your defenses against Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) Groups.

The most comprehensive prevention, detection, and response solution purpose built for Critical Infrastructures

Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI technology is a cutting-edge innovation that implements real time prevention, detection, response, and recovery for operational technologies and enables a fundamental shift from the traditional approach to cyber defense by learning a ‘pattern of life’ for every network, device, and user.  

Rather than relying on knowledge of past attacks, AI technology learns what is ‘normal’ for its environment, discovering previously unknown threats by detecting subtle shifts in behavior. Through identifying these unexpected anomalies, security teams can investigate novel attacks, discover blind spots, have live time visibility across all their physical and digital assets, and reduce time to detect, respond to, and triage security events.  

  • Achieve greater visibility of OT and IT devices across all levels of the Purdue Model.
  • The industry's only OT security to scale threat detection and response, with a 92% time saving from triage to recovery.  
  • The only OT focused security solution to provide bespoke Risk Management.

To learn more about how Darktrace/OT approaches unique use cases for industrial organizations visit the Darktrace/OT Webpage or join us LIVE at a city near you.

Read more below to discover how new innovations to Darktrace/OT are bringing a new, contextualized approach to Risk Management for Industrial organizations.

For more information on the entire Darktrace/OT Solution read our solution brief here.

Darktrace/OT and New Risk Management

Risk Identification

Leveraging the visibility of Darktrace/OT which identifies individual systems throughout the Purdue Model and the relationship between them, Darktrace/OT identifies high-risk CVEs and presents potential attack routes that go beyond techniques requiring a known exploit, such as misuse of legitimate services. Each attack path will have a mathematical evaluation of difficulty and impact from initial access to the high value objectives.  

Together this gives comprehensive coverage over your real and potential risks from both an attacker and known vulnerability perspectives. OT attack paths as seen here even leverage insights between the industrial and corporate communications to reveal ways threat actors may take advantage of IT-OT convergence. This revelation of imperceptible risks fills gaps in traditional risk analysis like remote access and insider threats.

Figure 1: Darktrace/OT visualizing the most critical attack paths at an organization
Figure 1: Darktrace/OT visualizing the most critical attack paths at an organization
Figure 2: A specific Attack Path identified by Darktrace/OT

Risk Prioritization

Darktrace/OT prioritizes remediations and mitigations based on difficulty and damage to your unique organization, using the established Attack Paths.

We ascertain the priorities that apply to your organization beyond pure theoretical damage answering questions like:

  • How difficult is a particular vulnerability to exploit considering the steps an attacker would require to reach it?
  • And, how significant would the impact be if it was exploited within this particular network?

This expanded approach to risk prioritization has a much more comprehensive evaluation of your organization's unique risk than has ever been possible before. Traditional approaches of ranking only known vulnerabilities with isolated scores using CVSS and exploitability metrics, often leaves gaps in IT-OT risks and is blind to legitimate service exploitation.

Figure 3: Darktrace/OT leverages its contextual understand of the organization’s network to prioritize remediation that will have the positive impact on the risk score

Darktrace provides mitigation strategies associated with each identified risk and the relevant impact it has on your overall risk posture, across all MITRE ATT&CK techniques.

What sets Darktrace apart is our ability to contextualize these mitigations within the broader business. When patching vulnerabilities directly isn’t possible, Darktrace identifies alternative actions that harden attack paths leading to critical assets. Hardening the surrounding attack path increases the difficulty and therefore reduces the likelihood and impact of a breach.

That means unpatched vulnerabilities and vulnerable devices aren’t left unprotected. This also has an added bonus, those hardening techniques work for all devices in that network segment, so apply one change, secure many.

Figure 4: Darktrace prioritizes mitigation reducing accessibility of vulnerability and the overall risk score when patches aren’t available

Communicate Board Level Risk with APT Threat Mapping

Darktrace/OT bridges theory and practice as the only security solution that maps MITRE techniques, frequently used by APT Groups, onto AI-assessed critical Attack Paths. This unique solution provides unparalleled insights including sector and location intelligence, possible operating platforms, common techniques, exploited CVEs, and the number of potential devices affected in your environment, supporting holistic risk assessment and proactive defense measures.

Ultimately, this becomes a power dashboard to communicate board level risk, using both metric based evidence and industry standard threat mapping.

Conclusion

Darktrace/OT is part of the Darktrace ActiveAI Security Platform a native, holistic, AI-driven platform built on over ten years of AI research. It helps security teams shift to more a productive mode, finding the known and the unknown attacks and transforming the SOC with the various Darktrace products to drive efficiency gains. It does this across the whole incident lifecycle to lower risk, reduce time spent on active incidents, and drive return on investment.

Discover more about Darktrace's ever-strengthening platform with the upcoming changes coming to our Darktrace/Email product and other launch day blogs.

Join Darktrace LIVE half-day event to understand the reality versus the hype surrounding AI and how to achieve cyber resilience.

Learn about the intersection of cyber and AI by downloading the State of AI Cyber Security 2024 report to discover global findings that may surprise you, insights from security leaders, and recommendations for addressing today’s top challenges that you may face, too.  

References

1. https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/ws/portalfiles/portal/313646831/Catch_Me_if_You_Can.pdf

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Mitchell Bezzina
VP, Product and Solutions Marketing
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