Security researchers at IBM Corp. and Dragos Inc. are warning that the industrial control systems that power manufacturing plants and utilities are prime targets for ransomware attackers.
In a report issued this week, the researchers noted that ransomware attacks against industrial entities jumped more than 500 percent over the last two years.
Interestingly, the increase in the ransomware incidents appears to coincide with the global COVID-19 pandemic. “Ransomware adversaries leveraged Coronavirus-themed phishing lures for initial access operations, preying on users’ concern for health and safety,” the researchers noted.
In some cases, the IBM and Dragos report said adversaries are targeting cold storage facilities and biomedical, and pharmaceutical manufacturers researching and developing virus vaccines and distribution methods, which could disrupt the development and distribution of the vital drugs.”
The analysis also found that ransomware operators are increasingly incorporating data theft and extortion operations into their attack techniques, potentially posing even greater impact from ransomware than disrupted operations through leaked intellectual property and other critical data.
According to the report (PDF), data stolen and leaked on publicly available websites could provide ICS targeting attackers with victim data that could inform or guide future ICS disruptive attacks.
To combat ransomware in ICS environments, the researchers suggest that asset owners and operators engage in effective defense-in-depth security strategies.
“Ensure an understanding of network interdependencies and conduct crown jewel analysis to identify potential weaknesses that could disrupt business continuity and production.
Over the summer, FireEye reported that a total of seven ransomware families have been found to target processes associated with operational technology (OT) software.