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Remotely Exploitable Industrial Control System Vulnerabilities on Rise

By Claroty Press Release

New report from Claroty researchers finds latest ICS vulnerabilities most prevalent in energy, critical manufacturing, and water & wastewater sectors of critical infrastructure

More than 70 percent of industrial control system (ICS) vulnerabilities disclosed in the first half (1H) of 2020 can be exploited remotely, highlighting the importance of protecting internet-facing ICS devices and remote access connections. This is according to the inaugural Biannual ICS Risk & Vulnerability Report, released by Claroty, which focuses on operational technology (OT) security.

The report comprises The Claroty Research Team's assessment of 365 ICS vulnerabilities published by the National Vulnerability Database (NVD) and 139 ICS advisories issued by the Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) during 1H 2020, affecting 53 vendors. The Claroty Research Team discovered 26 of the vulnerabilities included in this data set, according to the company.

Compared to 1H 2019, ICS vulnerabilities published by the NVD increased by 10.3 percent from 331, while ICS-CERT advisories increased by 32.4 percent from 105. More than 75 percent of vulnerabilities were assigned high or critical Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) scores.

"There is a heightened awareness of the risks posed by ICS vulnerabilities and a sharpened focus among researchers and vendors to identify and remediate these vulnerabilities as effectively and efficiently as possible," said Amir Preminger, vice president of research at Claroty. "We recognized the critical need to understand, evaluate, and report on the comprehensive ICS risk and vulnerability landscape to benefit the entire OT security community. Our findings show how important it is for organizations to protect remote access connections and internet-facing ICS devices, and to protect against phishing, spam, and ransomware, in order to minimize and mitigate the potential impacts of these threats."

Prominence of RCE Vulnerabilities

According to the report, more than 70 percent of the vulnerabilities published by the NVD can be exploited remotely, reinforcing the fact that fully air-gapped ICS networks that are isolated from cyber threats have become vastly uncommon. Additionally, the most common potential impact was remote code execution (RCE), possible with 49 percent of vulnerabilities – reflecting its prominence as the leading area of focus within the OT security research community – followed by the ability to read application data (41 percent), cause denial of service (DoS) (39 percent), and bypass protection mechanisms (37 percent). The prominence of remote exploitation has been exacerbated by the rapid global shift to a remote workforce and the increased reliance on remote access to ICS networks in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vulnerabilities in Three Key Industries

The energy, critical manufacturing, and water & wastewater infrastructure sectors were by far the most impacted by vulnerabilities published in ICS-CERT advisories during 1H 2020. Of the 385 unique Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs) included in the advisories, energy had 236, critical manufacturing had 197, and water & wastewater had 171. Compared to 1H 2019, water & wastewater experienced the largest increase of CVEs (122.1 percent), while critical manufacturing increased by 87.3 percent and energy by 58.9 percent.

Assessment of ICS Vulnerabilities

The Claroty Research Team discovered 26 ICS vulnerabilities disclosed during 1H 2020, prioritizing critical or high-risk vulnerabilities that could affect the availability, reliability, and safety of industrial operations. The team focused on ICS vendors and products with vast install bases, integral roles in industrial operations, and those that utilize protocols in which Claroty researchers have considerable expertise. These 26 vulnerabilities could have serious impacts on affected OT networks, because more than 60 percent enable some form of RCE.

For many of the vendors affected by Claroty's discoveries, this was their first reported vulnerability. As a result, they proceeded to create dedicated security teams and processes to address the rising vulnerability detections due to the convergence of IT and OT.

The Claroty Research Team is an award-winning group of OT security researchers known widely for its development of proprietary OT threat signatures, OT protocol analysis, and discovery and disclosure of ICS vulnerabilities. Fiercely committed to strengthening OT security and equipped with the industry's most extensive ICS testing lab, the team works closely with leading industrial automation vendors to evaluate the security of their products. To date, the team has discovered and disclosed more than 40 ICS vulnerabilities, working closely with dozens of vendors to remediate all reported issues.

To access the complete set of findings and in-depth analysis, download the Claroty Biannual ICS Risk & Vulnerability Report: 1H 2020 here.

On Thursday, August 27, Claroty will host a webinar to discuss the key findings of the report. Register here.



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