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Hackers target vital infrastructure. Security needs to be addressed before it’s too late

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News Tech: Cyber attacks don’t simply harm the virtual world; they may also have unsettling real-world repercussions for everyone, as a recent event that appeared to include a near miss has shown.

Importantly, the company said this wasn’t the case, and a government statement said there was no impact on South Staffordshire Water’s ability to safely supply drinking water. This is despite claims by the Clop ransomware group that they had access to industrial systems that control chemicals in the water.

A “criminal cyber attack” that disrupted corporate IT networks struck South Staffordshire Water, which supplies drinking water to more than 1.6 million people in the UK.

Despite having access to the network, Clop further asserted that they failed to encrypt any data since they “do not assault essential infrastructure.” However, the hackers claimed to have stolen over 5TB of data and tried to demand a ransom in exchange for keeping it locked up.

One such well-known instance of this happened at a water treatment facility in Florida last year, where an unidentified hacker was able to change the chemical levels in the water supply to the point where it would have been unsafe to consume. Fortunately, the incident was discovered prior to any tainted water leaving the plant, but the repercussions could have been disastrous.

Cyber criminals are aware that critical infrastructure is frequently susceptible to attacks from the internet. Just take a look at the Colonial Pipeline ransomware assault from last year, which caused fear among the populace, causing individuals to rush to petrol stations and seek to stockpile it for themselves. These networks, which rely on outdated operating systems and can be decades old, are excellent targets because they cannot receive security updates any longer. These networks are also becoming more and more interconnected with Internet of Things devices and sensors, which increases their susceptibility to attacks.

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Pipelines, power grids, water supplies, transportation, and even hospitals are all important pieces of infrastructure that are necessary to keep everything running and are, therefore, alluring targets for hackers, whether they are nation-state-backed hacking groups looking to cause disruption or ransomware groups looking to make money. “We can limit both the likelihood and impact of these threats by: safeguarding our networks, considering the way they are technically structured and who has access to them,” says advice from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) which warns that an attack could result in “major detrimental impact on the availability, delivery or integrity of essential services, leading to severe economic or social consequences or to loss of life.”

Many of the necessary security measures are among the most frequently advised and frequently easiest activities because they can shield networks and individuals from the potentially serious effects of attacks. These include making sure that networks aren’t protected by default or simple-to-guess passwords and that multi-factor authentication (MFA) is used, especially for crucial systems. Such measures can aid in the protection against the majority of attacks for critical infrastructure and other organisations.

Cyber thieves are increasingly focusing their attacks on essential infrastructure, as seen by incidents like the South Staffordshire Water assault and the Florida water problem. To avoid potentially disastrous effects for both persons and organisations, action must be made as soon as possible.

In some circumstances, this can entail placing older systems on a different, air-gapped network, preferably offline, and ensuring that they are not at all connected to the outside internet. If a network is breached, it might make some procedures more difficult to handle, but this is preferable to the alternative. It is crucial that individuals in charge of critical infrastructure understand their own network, what is connected to it, and who has access. Critical infrastructure cybersecurity can get increasingly complex, especially when working with older systems. Considering everything, allowing access only when required can help maintain networks secure.

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