In a report released by Honeywell based on cybersecurity threat data collected from hundreds of industrial facilities globally, the severity of threats detected to operational technology (OT) systems has risen by significant amounts over a 12-month period.
The findings from the latest ‘Honeywell Industrial USB Threat Report’ show that the total amount of threats posed by USB removable media to industrial process control networks remains consistently high, with 45% of locations detecting at least one inbound threat. Over the same time period, the number of threats specifically targeting OT systems nearly doubled from 16 to 28%, while the number of threats capable of causing a loss of view or other major disruption to OT systems more than doubled, from 26 to 59%.
The report shows that one in five of all threats was designed specifically to leverage USB removable media as an attack vector, and more than half the threats were designed to open backdoors, establish persistent remote access or download additional malicious payloads. These findings are indicative of more coordinated attacks, likely attempting to target air-gapped systems used in most industrial control environments and critical infrastructure.
“USB-borne malware continues to be a major risk for industrial operators,” said Eric Knapp, director of Cybersecurity Research and engineering fellow, Honeywell Connected Enterprise, Cybersecurity. “What’s surprising is that we’re seeing a much higher density of significant threats that are more targeted and more dangerous. This isn’t a case of accidental exposure to viruses through USB – it’s a trend of using removable media as part of more deliberate and coordinated attacks.”
The Honeywell Industrial USB Threat Report examines data collected from Honeywell’s Secure Media Exchange (SMX) technology, which is designed to scan and control removable media, including USB drives. As the second most prevalent attack vector into industrial control and automation systems, USB devices play an important role in attacks that target OT systems. In recent years, such attacks have included Disttrack, Duqu, Ekans, Flame, Havex, Industroyer, USBCulprit and others.
To reduce the risk of USB-related threats, Honeywell recommends that organisations implement a blend of OT cybersecurity software products.
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