With the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns, industrial cybersecurity methods were exposed to new challenges. For many industrial companies, the key question is: ‘How must the cybersecurity maturity model be adapted to provide effective protection in the digital age?’

This was the key question behind this year’s survey by Kaspersky on the State of Industrial Cybersecurity. In the age of digitalization, Industrial Control Systems (ICS) are connected to more and more components that, in turn, are connected directly to the internet. This makes it possible to communicate via the internet with automation systems, for example, in intelligent buildings, pipelines, or autonomous mobility.

In contrast to corporate networks that manage data, ICS manages physical processes. Physical assets can be manipulated or even destroyed by cyberattacks. Criminal organizations are now exploiting these possibilities as a business model. Users must protect themselves with new, modern security methods to detect attacks and initiate countermeasures.

The COVID-19 impact

Because of the pandemic, more than half of the survey respondents (53%) said that they were forced to adopt remote work habits. In addition, the emergency forced the industries to enhance their internal plans for cyber secure work during disasters (24%), while another 24% are concerned that the pandemic will result in a reduced cybersecurity budget. The latter echoes similar concerns found in a PwC survey where CFOs are most concerned about the effects of a global economic downturn (60%), the possibility of a new wave of infection (58%) and financial impact on their company (47%).

Risks and challenges

The truth is that the pandemic has brought new challenges in addition to the existing threat landscape. Technology trends such as the introduction of industrial IoT components (55%), cloud and SaaS adoption (55%), use of edge computing (36%) and 5G networks (33%), have led to the blurring of OT and IT boundaries and introduced new threats. Industries need to adapt their security policies and practices to address these challenges.

Considering the nature of ICS systems and their interaction with the physical world, cybersecurity programs need to minimize the impact of cybersecurity incidents. The first concern, according to the report, is to protect employees from injury or death. The second, third and fourth responses are roughly equal in size and together they make up 83% of the total. These challenges include damage to product/service quality (28%), loss of proprietary or confidential information (28%), and cost of incident response and mitigation (27%).

Barriers to cybersecurity projects

Despite those challenges, the report findings indicate that there are certain barriers when it comes to the realization of new cybersecurity projects to mitigate the threats. According to the report, the most common obstacles include the inability to stop production (34%) and the impact of bureaucratic steps, such as a lengthy approval process (31%) and having too many decision-makers (23%).

Those barriers may become a critical point considering COVID-19 because they can affect the implementation of pandemic-driven operational technology (OT) security initiatives. The cybersecurity race does not slow down and every year many incidents, including high-profile attacks, are hitting ICSs.

Industries must adapt to new norms including remote work, overnight digitalization, and new hygiene requirements, as well as specific pandemic-driven threats such as the massive growth in phishing attacks. Organizations need to make sure their protection is up to date with these changes and there are no open doors for malicious actions in ICS networks.

Remarkably, the report revealed that most firms refer to bureaucratic rather than technical obstacles. In addition to the most prevalent – long approval times and numerous decision-makers – these barriers include protracted supplier selection and purchasing processes, as well as interference from other departments. Industries need to overcome these barriers, especially in the post-coronavirus period.

The survey found that almost half of these organizations (46%) expected to see changes in their OT security priorities as a result of the pandemic. These organizations according to the report, will probably need to shift their security strategy and quickly need to implement new cybersecurity practices. While this can be challenging generally, due to the specific requirements of OT, the barriers for implementation can complicate and slow down the process even more.

Towards sustainable industries

Another interesting finding is that the vast majority of the survey respondents believe that robust cybersecurity plays an important role in improving the organization’s sustainable development strategy. In addition, the role of Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) has been introduced in 44% of the surveyed organizations. The increase in demand for CSOs reflects a significant evolution in corporate sustainability, which has been incorporated into companies’ core missions. By and large, this is no longer about ‘greenwashing’ but instead about being a good corporate citizen.

The report suggests the use of a cybersecurity maturity model that supports the holistic development of future industrial cybersecurity posture. This model provides a framework for strategically developing the benefits of cybersecurity technologies for risk reduction in industrial processes. The underlying cybersecurity structure aligns people, processes and technologies to ensure that the required security level is achieved.

ITEGRITI has developed and implemented holistic programs that mitigate cyber and compliance risk, supported by internal controls to measure, monitor and report ongoing program effectiveness. Our programs are proven to have helped companies avoid hacks and minimize business impact during a cybersecurity event. To discover more about your risk profile take our free assessment or to learn more, contact one of our experts.