Attackers Target Small Manufacturing Firms

The most common tactics include credential stuffing using valid accounts, various forms of deception, and vulnerabilities in third-party software, Rapid7 says in its latest quarterly threat report.

3 Min Read

Cybersecurity incidents targeting the manufacturing sector rose significantly in the second quarter of 2020, accounting for more than a third of detected attacks, up from 11% in the first quarter of the year, cybersecurity-services firm Rapid7 states in its latest threat report.

About three-quarters of the incidents affecting manufacturers targeted seven small firms, which Rapid7 did not name in its report. The only other sector where the majority of attacks targeted smaller firms was finance. The attacks do not seem to be state-sponsored espionage attacks but mainly attempts to infect a manufacturing firm's network with ransomware, says Wade Woolwine, principal security researcher at Rapid7.

"These are confirmed active threats ... that we discover through our threat hunting," he says. "For the most part, [manufacturers] are easy to target because they have antiquated systems and a less, how should I put it, less cyber-aware staff."

The data, based on detection reports sent to clients by Rapid7's Managed Detection and Response (MDR) service, found that 35% of attacks included some form of account compromises, while a third of attacks used malware, and 29% of attacks used a compromised program, or Trojan. 

The significant increase in attacks against small manufacturers likely means that a certain subset of the segment is being targeted by cybercriminals, says Woolwine. Rapid7 has not seen any changes in its customer base that would cause such an outsized increase in attack data.

"[W]e hypothesize that the significant number of organizations with 15 incidents or more in the manufacturing industry is likely related to the heightened targeting of that industry," Rapid7 states in its report. "[W]hereas only seeing one or two businesses with 10 or more breaches in the other industries is likely related to the lower maturity levels of their security programs."

Aside from attackers' focus on manufacturing, the most significant aspect of the second quarter is the enormous shift in employees working from home, and so attacks are shifting to credential-based attacks on cloud services and virtual private networks, and to spear-phishing-based attacks on end users, Woolwine says.

"They are going to continue to target the end user, certainly, because we are all distributed and not in our corporate environments," he says. "And with all the security researchers working from home, we may see another major vulnerability."

When characteristics of the threats detected in the second quarter are mapped to the MITRE ATT&CK framework, the top techniques used by attackers were the use of valid credentials, using deception or masquerading to fool defenses, and using third-party software as a vector of attack. 

Rapid7 also saw a significant 8,000-node botnet attempting to compromise Internet of Things (IoT) devices running the secure shell (SSH) service — such as web servers, home routers, digital cameras, and video recorders.

"These are rather 'noisy' campaigns that are attacking any SSH endpoint they can find on the Internet, despite the fact that it is highly unlikely physical home routers — and other types of IoT devices — will be sitting in enterprise or cloud networks," the report states. 

The ability of companies to detect threats, as measured by "dwell time," continues to be a problem. While a third of companies shut down an attack within a day, another quarter required up to a week, and another quarter required two months or more.

"Dwell time is another important component of the detection and response strategy," Rapid7's report states. "The longer attackers are present in the enterprise infrastructure, the more likely they are to accomplish their mission objectives."

About the Author(s)

Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer

Veteran technology journalist of more than 20 years. Former research engineer. Written for more than two dozen publications, including CNET, Dark Reading, MIT's Technology Review, Popular Science, and Wired News. Five awards for journalism, including Best Deadline Journalism (Online) in 2003 for coverage of the Blaster worm. Crunches numbers on various trends using Python and R. Recent reports include analyses of the shortage in cybersecurity workers and annual vulnerability trends.

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