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Energy Sector at Higher Risk of Brute Force Attacks and Malware Threats: Report

Alert Logic, a provider of Security-as-a-Service solutions for the cloud, issued a report on Wednesday warning that energy firms are at an elevated risk of brute force attacks and malware/botnet threats.

Alert Logic, a provider of Security-as-a-Service solutions for the cloud, issued a report on Wednesday warning that energy firms are at an elevated risk of brute force attacks and malware/botnet threats.

In its State of Cloud Security Bulletin on Information Security in the Energy Sector found that, when compared to Alert Logic’s overall customer set, the energy sector is at an elevated risk of brute force and malware/botnet attacks.

The report was based on customer data collected over a six-month period, and examines the rise of cyber attacks targeting the energy sector. According to AlertLogic, energy firms are thought to be particularly at risk due to the highly confidential and proprietary information they possess, as well as the prevalence of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and contractor access.

Energy Firms“The energy sector is a big part of the global economy and therefore has extremely high-stakes security risks compared to other industries,” said Stephen Coty, director, security research with Alert Logic. “Daily survival of the population and businesses alike depend on the availability of energy resources, making energy companies a prime target for hackers. This Security Bulletin calls out the specific threats to energy companies and provides recommendations for fine tuning existing information security defenses.”

According to the report, 67 percent of energy companies experienced brute force attacks, versus 34% of entire customer set.

“Attackers look for opportunistic points of vulnerability in networks housing confidential business information,” AlertLogic explained. “Breaches of geophysical data, in particular, are intended to damage or destroy the data used in energy resource exploration. Brute force attacks are also used to steal a company’s intellectual property for the purpose of industrial espionage.”

Furthermore, AlertLogic saw that 61 percent of energy companies experienced malware/botnet infiltration attacks, versus 13% of its entire customer set. These types of attacks seek access to physical infrastructure systems that control pipelines and other key energy plant operations. Alert Logic found that technologies such as SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) systems are vulnerable to hacking, while the emerging business practices of BYOD (bring your own device) and BYOA (bring your own applications) in the workplace can be carriers of viruses and other malware.

“Unlike an attack on an e-Commerce site or SaaS application provider, a malware infiltration attack on an energy company could grow to catastrophic proportions if hackers were able to block or flood the oil and gas pipeline infrastructure,” Coty said. “This industry doesn’t see the typical web application attacks. It experiences a greater magnitude of security threats that could have global repercussions for years to come.”

In addition to warning of the increased risks to energy firms, AlertLogic provided some basic guidance in order to defend against these types of attacks. AlertLogic recommendations include enhancing existing security strategy with multi-layer security practices, monitoring and defensive technologies to identify and stop cyber-attacks, as well as raising security awareness among employees.

“The prevalence of these relatively unsophisticated attacks underscores the importance of fundamental practices: multi-layer security, close attention to basic management practices (such as patch management and upgraded operating systems), the use of monitoring and defensive technologies to identify and stop attacks, and continual awareness-raising among employees on the basics of security hygiene,” the report said.

The Alert Logic State of Cloud Security Bulletin: Information Security in the Energy Sector is available here in PDF format.  

Written By

For more than 10 years, Mike Lennon has been closely monitoring the threat landscape and analyzing trends in the National Security and enterprise cybersecurity space. In his role at SecurityWeek, he oversees the editorial direction of the publication and is the Director of several leading security industry conferences around the world.

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