ICS Ransomware Danger Rages Despite Fewer Attacks


In a recent report provided by Dragos, despite the takedown of prominent ransomware groups, the remaining threat actors have evolved their tactics and maintained the exploitation of zero-day vulnerabilities. This has allowed them to inflict more damage on industrial control systems (ICS) with fewer attacks, as highlighted in Dragos' latest industrial ransomware analysis for the last quarter of 2023. The landscape of attacks against ICS is described as more refined and potent than ever before, a revelation that contrasts with recent high-profile busts of ransomware operators, including Ragnar Locker and ALPHV.

During the analysis period, there was a reduction in ransomware attacks impacting industrial systems. Out of the 77 known groups targeting ICS, only 32 were active last quarter, resulting in a decrease from 231 incidents in the previous year to 204 in the fourth quarter of 2023. While the report does not attribute the decline to any specific cause, it underscores that the overall threat to ICS remains significant.

The emergence of innovative techniques, such as remote encryption, by ransomware groups like LockBit, BlackCat, Roya, and Akira, is considered a potential contributor to the evolving threat landscape. This method involves compromising an endpoint connected to the victim's network to launch ransomware attacks within the victim's environment, increasing the chances of success.

Furthermore, ransomware groups are enhancing their public relations efforts by engaging with the media to shape narratives surrounding their activities. This calculated approach aims to manipulate public perception and increase their notoriety and profitability. In response, defenders are urged to elevate their communication strategies in incident response efforts.

Security Officer Comments:
Collaboration and information sharing among ransomware groups pose additional risks to critical infrastructure and industrial sectors. Notable instances, like the collaboration of BianLian, White Rabbit, and Mario Ransomware targeting financial services organizations, highlight the growing cooperation among cybercriminals. Despite a decrease in the sheer number of attacks, the report emphasizes the persistent threat of cybercriminals targeting industrial systems. The LockBit 3.0 group emerges as the most active during the quarter, responsible for 25.5% of incidents, while Black Basta ransomware follows with 10.3%.

Suggested Corrections:
Backup your data, system images, and configurations, regularly test them, and keep the backups offline: Ensure that backups are regularly tested and that they are not connected to the business network, as many ransomware variants try to find and encrypt or delete accessible backups. Maintaining current backups offline is critical because if your network data is encrypted with ransomware, your organization can restore systems.

Update and patch systems promptly: This includes maintaining the security of operating systems, applications, and firmware in a timely manner. Consider using a centralized patch management system; use a risk- based assessment strategy to drive your patch management program.

Test your incident response plan: There's nothing that shows the gaps in plans more than testing them. Run through some core questions and use those to build an incident response plan: Are you able to sustain business operations without access to certain systems? For how long? Would you turn off your manufacturing operations if business systems such as billing were offline?

Check Your Security Team's Work: Use a 3rd party pen tester to test the security of your systems and your ability to defend against a sophisticated attack. Many ransomware criminals are aggressive and sophisticated and will find the equivalent of unlocked doors.

Segment your networks: There's been a recent shift in ransomware attacks – from stealing data to disrupting operations. It's critically important that your corporate business functions and manufacturing/production operations are separated and that you carefully filter and limit internet access to operational networks, identify links between these networks and develop workarounds or manual controls to ensure ICS networks can be isolated and continue operating if your corporate network is compromised.

Regularly test contingency plans such as manual controls so that safety critical functions can be maintained during a cyber incident.

Train employees: Email remains the most vulnerable attack vector for organizations. Users should be trained how to avoid and spot phishing emails. Multi Factor authentication can help prevent malicious access to sensitive services.