Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

News & Commentary

3/20/2018
02:30 PM
Amit Yoran
Amit Yoran
Commentary
Connect Directly
LinkedIn
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail vvv
100%
0%

Critical Infrastructure: Stop Whistling Past the Cyber Graveyard

An open letter to former colleagues in Homeland Security, peers in private sector cybersecurity firms, those who own and operate critical systems, academics, and politicians.

I woke up to a cyberattack double-whammy that frankly made me want to go straight back to bed.

First, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI issued an alert about the Russian government's targeting of US critical infrastructure — nuclear power plants, chemical plants, heavy manufacturing facilities, and so on. The joint alert was an extraordinary and unprecedented move by two agencies that traditionally have avoided pointing the finger at nation-state actors. From my time as the founding director of the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), I can say this is highly unusual.

As if that were not enough, the New York Times published a lengthy analysis of a cyberattack on a Saudi petrochemical plant that took place in the summer of 2017. Though investigators have yet to publish their findings as to who was behind the attack and what the attackers hoped to achieve, cyber experts speaking on the condition of anonymity told the Times that they believe the attack was intended to cause an explosion and kill or injure hundreds of people.

These scenarios may read like a summary of the latest must-see episode from Homeland or the latest superhero flick, but they're not fiction — far from it. They reflect the stark and sobering reality of living in our digital-everything world. The fact that they are surprising to anybody is the most shocking (and some might say terrifying) thing of all. According to a study of the oil and gas industry by the Ponemon Institute, 68% of respondents report at least one security compromise. As recently as last year, the Department of Energy reported that the American electrical grid was in "imminent danger" from cyberattacks that are "growing more frequent and sophisticated."

The signs are all around us and they're multiplying and growing more strident. At best, the string of cyberattacks on petrochemical plants in Saudi Arabia is an alarming reminder of the threats facing critical infrastructure everywhere. At worst, they're a stark warning, if not a promise, of what's to come.

Let me put this another way: all of the hand-wringing and face-palming in Congress and in the media over the Equifax breach, which jeopardized the personal information of roughly 148 million Americans, will look like a walk in the park compared to what happens should a US energy facility be successfully attacked. And with reason. It's the difference between damages that can be more easily dismissed as a nuisance — a compromised driver's license number, for example — versus those with the potential to wreak widespread havoc in our communities. We're talking about the kind of cyberattack that jumps the digital divide and does physical damage with the intent to injure or kill people.

Securing decades-old power plants and manufacturing facilities that were deemed safe from cyberattack precisely because they were never designed to be connected to digital devices is incredibly complex, and I acknowledge that. But the fact is that these plants were designed for the old-school way of doing things, not for a digital world brimming with smart, connected heaters, window shades, cars, and phones.

We must view these attacks as an urgent call to change the way we handle the threats targeting the world's most valuable and vulnerable systems. Otherwise, the next story won't be about what could have happened. It'll be about the real-world consequences of what did happen. We'll be looking in the rearview mirror asking ourselves why we, collectively, were asleep at the proverbial wheel.

Securing the critical infrastructure that powers our modern lives has to be made a global priority. This is a sacred trust shared by both private and public sectors. This is an all-hands effort for cybersecurity — my former colleagues in Homeland Security, my peers in private sector cybersecurity firms, those who own and operate critical systems, academics, and politicians — to come together to address this issue now. We can't solve the security challenges facing these delicate, mission-critical systems by working in isolation. Industry experts and government agencies around the world need to work together to develop modern standards, processes, and regulations to address today's modern threat landscape. Let's start by protecting the systems that matter most.

Related Content:

Interop ITX 2018

Join Dark Reading LIVE for two cybersecurity summits at Interop ITX. Learn from the industry’s most knowledgeable IT security experts. Check out the security track here.

Amit Yoran is chairman and CEO of Tenable, overseeing the company's strategic vision and direction. As the threat landscape expands, Amit is leading Tenable into a new era of security solutions, empowering organizations to meet the challenges of evolving threats with ... View Full Bio
 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Bob Huber Tenable
50%
50%
Bob Huber Tenable,
User Rank: Author
7/30/2019 | 1:23:05 PM
Progress, 13 years later
As someone that started working to secure ICS/OT for a national lab back in 2006, there has been tremendous progress in the space, albeit, at a slow pace. Up until recently, companies that developed products to secure ICS/OT didn't have a market. There were no buyers; no one responsible for ICS/OT security; hence the reason that the government and national labs weighed in to the fray. We've now become self aware, the market has matierialized and we're finally holding conversations that I only dreamed of 13 years ago. The attack surface for ICS/OT has expanded rapidly during that timeframe and our technologies just aren't quite there to protect them, yet. What to do in light of that? One, know what you have - identify your key ICS/OT cyber terrain. Two, operate as if you're ICS/OT is compromised already. Three, prioritze your risk and be sure to include safety/all hazards into your analysis, not just cyber. As Amit correctly noted, "It'll be about the real-world consequences".
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 7/9/2020
Introducing 'Secure Access Service Edge'
Rik Turner, Principal Analyst, Infrastructure Solutions, Omdia,  7/3/2020
Russian Cyber Gang 'Cosmic Lynx' Focuses on Email Fraud
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  7/7/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
Special Report: Computing's New Normal, a Dark Reading Perspective
This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
Flash Poll
The Threat from the Internetand What Your Organization Can Do About It
The Threat from the Internetand What Your Organization Can Do About It
This report describes some of the latest attacks and threats emanating from the Internet, as well as advice and tips on how your organization can mitigate those threats before they affect your business. Download it today!
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-15526
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-09
In Redgate SQL Monitor 7.1.4 through 10.1.6 (inclusive), the scope for disabling some TLS security certificate checks can extend beyond that defined by various options on the Configuration > Notifications pages to disable certificate checking for alert notifications. These TLS security checks are...
CVE-2020-10756
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-09
An out-of-bounds read vulnerability was found in the SLiRP networking implementation of the QEMU emulator. This flaw occurs in the icmp6_send_echoreply() routine while replying to an ICMP echo request, also known as ping. This flaw allows a malicious guest to leak the contents of the host memory, re...
CVE-2020-12421
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-09
When performing add-on updates, certificate chains terminating in non-built-in-roots were rejected (even if they were legitimately added by an administrator.) This could have caused add-ons to become out-of-date silently without notification to the user. This vulnerability affects Firefox ESR < 6...
CVE-2020-12422
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-09
In non-standard configurations, a JPEG image created by JavaScript could have caused an internal variable to overflow, resulting in an out of bounds write, memory corruption, and a potentially exploitable crash. This vulnerability affects Firefox < 78.
CVE-2020-12423
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-09
When the Windows DLL "webauthn.dll" was missing from the Operating System, and a malicious one was placed in a folder in the user's %PATH%, Firefox may have loaded the DLL, leading to arbitrary code execution. *Note: This issue only affects the Windows operating system; other operating sys...