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Manufacturing is main target for cyber-attackers in the UK

21 May, 2020

Manufacturing is the sector of the UK economy most commonly attacked by cyber-criminals, according to a new analysis by the global technology services provider, NTT. Last year, almost a third (29%) of all cyber-attacks in the UK were targeted at manufacturers, followed by the technology sector (19%) and business and professional services (17%). Government and finance are the other two sectors in the top five.

According to NTT’s 2020 Global Threat Intelligence Report, the UK and Hong Kong are the only locations where manufacturing tops the list of most-attacked sectors. In Hong Kong, manufacturing accounts for 46% of all cyber-attacks.

Reconnaissance activity (60%) was the most common form of attack on UK and Irish manufacturers, followed by Web application attacks (36%). Across the UK economy as a whole, reconnaissance attacks account for half of all hostile activity, followed by Web applications on 22%.

“UK manufacturing has become a major target for attackers in recent years as a result of the increased risks brought about from the convergence of IT and operational technology (OT),” explains Rory Duncan, NTT’s security go-to-market leader. “The biggest worry is that security has lagged behind in this sector, potentially exposing systems and processes to attack.

“Poor OT security is a legacy issue,” he adds. “Many systems were designed with efficiency, throughput and regulatory compliance in mind, rather than security. In the past, OT also relied on a form of ‘security through obscurity’. The protocols, formats and interfaces in these systems were often complex and proprietary and different from those in IT systems, so it was difficult for attackers to mount a successful attack. As more and more systems come online, hackers are innovating and see these systems as ripe for attack.”

Globally, cyber-attacks on manufacturing are most commonly linked to intellectual property (IP) theft, but the sector is increasingly facing financially motivated data breaches, global supply chain risks and risks from unpatched vulnerabilities.

Manufacturing accounts for 25% of cyber-attacks identified in Japan, 21% of those in Germany, and 20% in the Americas.

The NTT's cyber-security report is based on analyses of cyber-threats around the world

The NTT report – the eighth in an annual series – finds that attackers have been investing in automation techniques, and developing multi-function attack tools that use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. It also reports that 21% of global attacks took the form of scanners purportedly looking for vulnerabilities.

According to NTT, the Coronavirus pandemic has spurred a variety of cyber-attacks, starting with phishing attacks in mid-January 2020. Web sites posing as sources of information, but hosting malware, have been appearing at a rate of more than 2,000 a day on some days. There have also been exploits that prompt users to download Covid-19 apps from the World Health Organisation, but push information-stealing malware instead.

Duncan warns that “the current global pandemic and the flow of trusted and untrusted information used to mask the activities of cyber-criminals has shown us that they will take advantage of any situation. Organisations must be ready to respond to these and other threats in a constantly evolving landscape.”

The NTT report analyses and summarises trends based on data from trillions of logs and billions of attacks. It describes 2019 as a “year of enforcement” with the number of governance, risk and compliance (GRC) initiatives growing, creating a challenging global regulatory landscape. It offers recommendations to help navigate compliance, including identifying acceptable risk levels, building cyber-resilience capabilities and implementing secure-by-design systems.

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