Linking of IT systems poses risk to critical infrastructure — Microsoft

While the convergence of infrastructure systems can offer simplified operations, it can also open up more vulnerabilities to the networks. The recent Microsoft Cyber Signals report highlights the wider risks that linking IT, Internet-of-Things (IoT), and Operational Technology (OT) systems pose to critical infrastructure.

The Microsoft Cyber Signals is a regular cyberthreat intelligence brief spotlighting security trends and insights gathered from the company’s 43 trillion daily security signals and 8,500 security experts.

“As OT systems underpinning energy, transportation, and other infrastructures become increasingly connected to IT systems, the risk of disruption and damage grows as boundaries blur between these formerly separated worlds. For businesses and infrastructure operators across industries, the defensive imperatives are gaining total visibility over connected systems and weighing evolving risks and dependencies.”

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OT is a combination of hardware and software across programmable systems or devices that interact with the physical environment (or manage devices that interact with the physical environment). Examples of OT can include building management systems, fire control systems, and physical access control mechanisms, like doors and elevators.

“With increasing connectivity across converging IT, OT, and IoT, organizations, and individuals need to rethink cyber risk impact and consequences,” Microsoft said. “Similar to how the loss of a laptop or modern vehicle containing a homeowner’s cached Wi-Fi credentials could grant a property thief unauthorized network access, compromising a manufacturing facility’s remotely connected equipment or a smart building’s security cameras introduces new vectors for threats like malware or industrial espionage.”

Industrial controllers

Microsoft also identified unpatched, high-severity vulnerabilities in 75% of the most common industrial controllers in customer OT networks. This illustrates how challenging it is for even well-resourced organizations to patch control systems in demanding environments sensitive to downtime.

The report showed that there has been a 78% increase in disclosures of high-severity vulnerabilities from 2020 to 2022 in industrial control equipment produced by popular vendors.

Over 1 million connected devices are publicly visible on the Internet running Boa, an outdated and unsupported software still widely used in IoT devices and software development kits.

“For businesses and individuals, securing IoT solutions with a Zero Trust security model starts with non-IoT-specific requirements,” the company said. “This can be achieved by specifically ensuring they have implemented the basics to securing identities and their devices and limiting their access. These requirements include explicitly verifying users, having visibility into the devices on the network, and real-time risk detections.”