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Monitoring and intrusion detection software could have protected Florida water supply

Data collection and monitoring applications can mitigate — even prevent — industrial cyber hacks like the one on the Florida water treatment plant, according to a Paessler/Rhebo blog.

“As an example, PRTG and Rhebo Industrial Protector interact in a way that the OT (operations tech) data passively collected by Rhebo with anomaly detection can be used by PRTG, which is by definition an active system, for threat analysis and the definition of counter-measures,” wrote Rhebo‘s Klaus Mochalski in the article.

The cyberattack on the Oldsmar, Florida water treatment plant that made headlines in February 2021 shows just how vulnerable industrial networks can be to hackers, he suggested.

According to Wired magazine, the hacker had actually tried to poison the town supply by telling the computer-controlled systems to increase the proportion of sodium hydroxide in the water — risking the health of around 15,000 city residents.

The chemical is used in water treatment to regulate the acidity of drinking water. Mochalski said the hack was “an almost textbook illustration” of the security flaws that still prevail in many critical infrastructures.

“The lack of damage from the attack was a lucky coincidence rather than due to a thorough security concept. The incident underscores the need for intelligent, real-time monitoring in critical infrastructure,” he said.

According to management, the hacker had infiltrated the system through remote access. This technology is regularly used by the staff, as well as service providers, to access system controls for water supply and treatment via authorised accounts.”

At the very least, an installed cybersecurity system should be able to reliably identify new, unauthorised network participants, notes Mochalski. Instead, the hack was discovered in time essentially by accident.

An end-to-end intrusion detection system can detect and report critical network changes in real time. Network monitoring with anomaly detection can report suspicious and potentially dangerous logins, using indicators such as access time, IP address, access duration and the actions performed with the account or the use of a new account.

“In addition, an industrial endpoint protection system would have added the ability to automatically prevent certain operations directly on the remotely controlled assets,” he said.

And since OT presents quite different requirements and challenges to enterprise or office IT, it is useful to combine different measures that fit some specific needs of OT — including ensuring stability through passive approaches that do not disrupt industrial processes, Mochalski wrote.

Read the full blog article on Paessler’s website.

Paessler solutions allow for monitoring the entire infrastructure, from SMB to large IT infrastructures to monitoring of datacentre and storage, bandwidth, the cloud, databases, ports, servers and SNMP as well as network mapping. It also offers many free network tools.

( Photo by Bluewater Globe on Unsplash )

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