Building a Resilient World:
The ISAGCA Blog

Welcome to the official blog of the ISA Global Cybersecurity Alliance (ISAGCA).

This blog covers topics on automation cybersecurity such as risk assessment, compliance, educational resources, and how to leverage the ISA/IEC 62443 series of standards.

The material and information contained on this website is for general information purposes only. ISAGCA blog posts may be authored by ISA staff and guest authors from the cybersecurity community. Views and opinions expressed by a guest author are solely their own, and do not necessarily represent those of ISA. Posts made by guest authors have been subject to peer review.

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Common ICS Cybersecurity Myth #5: Financially Motivated Cyberattacks

Misconceptions about ICS/OT cybersecurity are stubborn. This "mythbusting" blog series dispels five common myths related to ICS cybersecurity. Catch up on previous entries if you're interested:

Now, let's dive in.

ICS Cybersecurity Myth #5

Why would someone even bother to attack smart grids or industrial networks? Many people believe that attackers are usually financially motivated, and therefore, that there is not much to gain by attacking industrial networks

Contrary to the common belief that attackers are primarily financially motivated, and that there is not much for them to gain by attacking an industrial network, there could be many reasons why hackers would seek to attack and gain access to industrial networks—especially critical infrastructure such as electricity, gas, and water.  

canadian centre for cybersecurityImage source: Canadian Centre for Cyber Security

Cybercriminals are financially motivated, but nation states and hacktivists may have different motives beyond the financial. State-sponsored actors and hacktivists may want to gain access to vulnerable critical infrastructure or defense strategy without causing immediate damage, and use their access to other nations’ critical infrastructure to influence policies and negotiations—or they may want to cause damage or outages during potential war situations to bring about economic impacts. (All of these are hypothetical—but feasible—scenarios.)

Busting ICS Cybersecurity Myth #5

This is an insightful report that highlights various actors that are motivated to attack ICS and the vectors they leverage for initial entry into ICS.

sans institute cybersecurity mythsImage source: SANS 2019 State of OT/ICS Cybersecurity Survey

The cyber threat landscape is always growing and changing, and attackers are targeting ICS and critical infrastructures.

Below is a partial list (2010-2020) of ICS-related cyber incidents:

2010

Stuxnet attack ruined almost 20% of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges

2013

Cyberattack on a German steel mill resulted in massive physical and equipment damages

2015

BlackEnergy3 cyberattack on Ukrainian power utilities caused power loss for more than 225,000 customers

2017

WannaCry attack affected 200,000+ systems in 150 countries—although not explicitly designed to target ICS, it impacted ICS as well

2017

NotPetya attack prevented Maersk from locating and routing shipments, caused up to EUR 300 million in losses (public reports)

2018

Restoration from a cyberattack on an Italy-based oil company took more than a week

2019

Cyberattack on Norsk Hydro caused aluminum production shutdown, resulting in financial loss of up to 75 million USD

2020

Ransomware attack on a US natural gas company caused a gas pipeline to be shut down for two days


Stay tuned for the final part in this series, in which we identify major current trends in ICS cybersecurity and come up with lessons learned.

Interested in reading even more articles like this? Subscribe to the ISAGCA blog and receive weekly emails with links to the latest thought leadership, tips, research, and other insights from automation cybersecurity leaders.

Sanjay Chhillar
Sanjay Chhillar
Sanjay Chhillar is the head of OT/ICS Cybersecurity Practice at Siemens UK & Ireland.

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