Cybersecurity High-Risk Series: Challenges in Securing Federal Systems and Information

Federal systems are vulnerable to cyberattacks. Our High Risk report identified 10 critical actions for addressing federal cybersecurity challenges.

In this report, the second in a series of four, we cover the 3 actions related to Securing Federal Systems and Information:

- Improve implementation of government-wide cybersecurity initiatives
- Address weaknesses in federal agency information security programs
- Enhance the federal response to cyber incidents to better protect federal systems and information

GAO has made about 712 recommendations in public reports since 2010 with respect to securing federal systems and information. Until these are fully implemented, federal agencies will be more limited in their ability to protect private and sensitive data entrusted to them. For more information on this report, visit https://www.gao.gov/cybersecurity.

Improve Implementation of Government-Wide Cybersecurity Initiatives

Federal law assigned five key cybersecurity responsibilities to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), including securing federal information and systems, and coordinating federal efforts to secure and protect against critical infrastructure risk. To implement these responsibilities, CISA undertook an organizational transformation initiative aimed at unifying the agency, improving mission effectiveness, and enhancing the workplace experience. In March 2021, we reported that CISA had only completed 37 of 94 planned implementation tasks. Critical transformation tasks such as finalizing the mission-essential functions of CISA’s divisions and defining incident management roles and responsibilities across the agency had not yet been completed.

- We recommended that CISA establish expected completion dates, plans for developing performance measures, and an overall deadline for the completion of the transformation initiative, as well as develop a strategy for comprehensive workforce planning.

Address Weaknesses in Federal Agency Information Security Programs

To protect federal information and systems, the Federal Information Security Modernization Act of 2014 (FISMA) requires federal agencies to develop, document, and implement information security programs. Congress included a provision in FISMA for GAO to periodically report on agencies’ implementation of the act. In March 2022, we reported on the information security programs of 23 federal civilian agencies, including annually required program reviews to be conducted by agency inspectors general (IG). Among other things, we noted that IGs determined that 16 (or 70 percent) of the 23 agencies had ineffective programs for fiscal year 2020.

We found that OMB’s guidance to IGs on conducting agency evaluations was not always clear, leading to inconsistent application and reporting by IGs. Further, we reported that the binary effective/not effective scale resulted in imprecise ratings that did not clearly distinguish among the differing levels of agencies’ performance. By clarifying its guidance and enhancing its rating scale, OMB could help ensure more a more consistent approach and nuanced picture of agencies’ cybersecurity programs.

- GAO recommended that OMB, in consultation with others, clarify its guidance to IGs and create a more precise overall rating scale.

Enhance the Federal Response to Cyber Incidents

DOD and our nation's defense industrial base (DIB) are dependent on information systems to carry out their operations. These systems continue to be the target of cyberattacks, as demonstrated by over 12,000 cyber incidents DOD has experienced since 2015.

In November 2022, we reported DOD has taken steps to combat these attacks and the number of cyber incidents had declined in recent years. However, we found that the department (1) had not fully implemented its processes for managing cyber incidents, (2) did not have complete data on cyber incidents that staff report, and (3) did not document whether it notifies individuals whose personal data is compromised in a cyber incident.

In addition, according to officials, DOD has not yet decided whether DIB cyber incidents detected by cybersecurity service providers should be shared with all relevant stakeholders. Until DOD examines whether this information should be shared with all relevant parties, opportunities could be lost to identify system threats and improve system weaknesses.

- GAO recommended the Department of Defense improve the sharing of DIB-related cyber incident information and document when affected individuals are notified of a PII breach of their data.

NSA, CISA, and MS-ISAC Release Guidance for Securing Remote Monitoring and Management Software

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), National Security Agency (NSA), and Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC) released the “Protecting Against Malicious Use of Remote Monitoring and Management Software” Cybersecurity Advisory (CSA) today to help network defenders protect against the malicious use of legitimate remote monitoring and management (RMM) software.

RMM software is commonly used by managed service providers (MSPs) and help desks to provide security and/or technical support. The software is intended to enable network management, endpoint monitoring, and remote interaction with hosts for IT-support functions. Malicious use of RMM software allows cybercriminals and advanced persistent threat (APT) actors to bypass anti-virus/anti-malware defenses.

In October, CISA identified a widespread cyber campaign in which cybercriminal actors leveraged RMM software to gain command and control of devices and accounts. Malicious cyber actors could leverage these same techniques to target National Security Systems (NSS), Department of Defense (DoD), and Defense Industrial Base (DIB) networks and use legitimate RMM software on both work and home devices and accounts. Other RMM software solutions could be abused to similar effect.

CISA, NSA, and MS-ISAC encourage network defenders to apply mitigations such as the following:

- Audit installed remote access tools to identify RMM software.
- Implement application controls to prevent execution of unauthorized RMM software.
- Use only authorized RMM software on your network over approved remote access solutions, such as VPN or VDI.
- Block both inbound and outbound connections on common RMM ports and protocols.

Read full report at www.media.defense.gov/2023/Jan/25/2003149873/-1/-1/0/JOINT_CSA_RMM.PDF

Bitzlato: senior management arrested

An operation led by French and US authorities, and strongly supported by Europol, has targeted the crypto exchange platform Bitzlato. The globally operating Hong Kong-registered cryptocurrency exchange is suspected of facilitating the laundering of large amounts of criminal proceeds and converting them into roubles. Law enforcement authorities took down the digital infrastructure of the service, based in France, and interrogated leading members of the platform’s management. The operation also involved law enforcement and judicial authorities from Belgium, Cyprus, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands.

Targeting crucial crime facilitators such as crypto exchanges is becoming a key priority in the battle against cybercrime. Bitzlato allowed the rapid conversion of various crypto-assets such as bitcoin, ethereum, litecoin, bitcoin cash, dash, dogecoin and USDT into Russian roubles. It is estimated that the crypto exchange platform has received a total of assets worth EUR 2.1 billion (BTC 119 000).

While the conversions of crypto-assets into fiat currencies is not illegal, investigations into the cybercriminal operators indicated that large volumes of criminal assets were going through the platform. The analysis indicated that about 46 % of the assets exchanged through Bitzlato, worth roughly EUR 1 billion, had links to criminal activities.

Cryptanalysis uncovered that the majority of suspicious transactions are linked to entities sanctioned by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), with others linked to cyber scams, money laundering, ransomware and child abuse material. For example, investigations showed that 1.5 million BTC transactions have been made directly between Bitzlato users and the Hydramarket, taken down in April 2022.

This exchange platform, available both in Russian and English language, rented dedicated servers from a hosting company in France. The coordinated action of the judicial and law enforcement authorities from the different involved countries led to the takedown of the platform, seizures of present financial assets, and further technical analysis.

Cryptoanalysis and international coordination to uncover links

During the first phases of the investigative activities, Europol facilitated the information exchange, provided analytical support linking available data to various criminal cases within and outside the EU, and supported the investigation through the analysis of millions of cryptocurrency transactions.

On the action day, Europol deployed 13 of its experts on the spot (10 in France, 1 in Cyprus, 1 in Spain and 1 in Portugal) and supported the deployment of national investigators in other countries taking part in the operational activities. Europol supported the law enforcement authorities involved with coordination related to cryptocurrency analysis, cross checking of operational information against Europol’s databases, and operational analysis. At this moment, already over 3 500 bitcoin addresses and over a 1 000 Bitzlato user details showed links with various criminal cases reported in Europol’s systems. Analysis of this data and other related cases is expected to trigger further investigative activities.

The impact of cybersecurity in the energy industry

Cyber resilience is a challenge for organizations globally and for the electricity industry in particular. Power systems are among the most complex and critical of all infrastructure types and act as the backbone of economic activity.

Large-scale incidents such as blackouts can have socio-economic ramifications for households, businesses and vital institutions. For example, a six-hour winter blackout in mainland France could result in damages totalling over €1.5 billion ($1.7 billion).

In 2018, the World Economic Forum Centre for Cybersecurity and the Platform for Shaping the Future of Energy, Materials and Infrastructure launched the Cyber Resilience in the Electricity Industry initiative to improve the cyber resilience of global electricity infrastructure. This initiative brought together leaders from more than 50 businesses, governments, civil society and academia to collaborate and develop a clear and coherent cybersecurity vision for protecting the power infrastructure.

Building on the first phase of the initiative, the Forum is now developing a unique exchange platform for cybersecurity leaders across the electricity industry in collaboration with Dragos, EDP, Enel, Hitachi Energy, Iberdrola, Naturgy, Ørsted, Schneider Electric, Siemens Energy, Southern and Vestas. This new platform serves as a central hub where industry experts can exchange knowledge, ideas and best practices to improve cyber resilience as a whole.

By bringing together the leading minds in cybersecurity worldwide, the initiative is fostering collaboration and innovation in this critical field, with the ultimate goal of enhancing the security and reliability of the electricity infrastructure that powers the modern world.

What are the challenges of cybersecurity in the energy industry?

The unprecedented pace of technological change driven by the Fourth Industrial Revolution means that health, transport, communication, production and distribution systems will demand rapidly increasing energy resources to support global digitalization and the advancement of interconnected devices.

Digitalization is driving growth and innovation in the electricity industry and has tremendous potential to deliver shareholder, customer and environmental value. However, new technologies and business models affecting operating assets present both opportunities and risks.

In the past, managing these risks had only meant dealing with issues such as component failure or weather damages, while today’s resilience plans must consider cybersecurity-related threats.

Our approach to strengthening cybersecurity in the energy industry

The Cyber Resilience in the Electricity Industry programme focuses on three main pillars:

- Developing scenarios and use cases that industry executives and boards can use to create a culture of cyber resilience and good governance in the electricity sector.
- Improving the implementation of cyber resilience regulations by fostering dialogue between policy-makers and businesses.
- Improving supply chain resilience by establishing standards for cybersecurity roles and responsibilities across all stakeholders involved to ensure that every entity is taking appropriate steps to protect against cyberthreats.

The initiative has published a series of reports to guide chief executives and board members in meeting the unique challenges of managing cyber risks:

- Cyber Resilience in the Electricity Ecosystem: Principles and Guidance for Boards
- Cyber Resilience in the Electricity Ecosystem: Playbook for Boards and Cybersecurity Officers
- Cyber Resilience in the Electricity Ecosystem: Securing the Value Chain

In 2021, following a request from the European Commission (EC) Energy Directorate, the initiative also developed a collection of 15 lessons learned and recommendations for improvement on the new EC Cybersecurity Directive considering the implications of supply chain attacks and other systemic risks for cybersecurity in the energy industry.

Partnering to Safeguard K–12 organizations from Cybersecurity Threats

CISA has released 'Protecting Our Future: Partnering to Safeguard K–12 organizations from Cybersecurity Threats'. The report provides recommendations and resources to help K-12 schools and school districts address systemic cybersecurity risk. It also provides insight into the current threat landscape specific to the K-12 community and offers simple steps school leaders can take to strengthen their cybersecurity efforts.

The report’s findings state that K-12 organizations need resources, simplicity and prioritization to effectively reduce their cybersecurity risk. To address these issues, CISA provides three recommendations in the report to help K-12 leaders build, operate, and maintain resilient cybersecurity programs:

- Invest in the most impactful security measures and build toward a mature cybersecurity plan.
- Recognize and actively address resource constraints.
- Focus on collaboration and information-sharing.

Along with the report, we are providing an online toolkit which aligns resources and materials to each of CISA’s three recommendations along with guidance on how stakeholders can implement each recommendation based on their current needs. To read the full report and to access the toolkit, visit Protecting Our Future: Partnering to Safeguard K–12 organizations from Cybersecurity Threats.

Critical Infrastructure: Actions Needed to Better Secure Internet-Connected Devices

The USA's 16 critical infrastructure sectors rely on internet-connected devices and systems to deliver essential services, such as electricity and health care. These sectors face increasing cybersecurity threats—an issue on our High Risk list.

Federal agencies that have leadership roles in 3 sectors we reviewed have taken some steps to manage the cybersecurity risks posed by internet-connected devices and systems. But they've not assessed risks to the sectors as a whole. Without a holistic assessment, the agencies can't know what additional cybersecurity protections might be needed.

Cyber threats to critical infrastructure IoT and OT represent a significant national security challenge. Recent incidents—such as the ransomware attacks targeting health care and essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic—illustrate the cyber threats facing the nation's critical infrastructure. Congress included provisions in the IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2020 for GAO to report on IoT and OT cybersecurity efforts.

This report (1) describes overall federal IoT and OT cybersecurity initiatives; (2) assesses actions of selected federal agencies with a lead sector responsibility for enhancing IoT and OT cybersecurity; and (3) identifies leading guidance for addressing IoT cybersecurity and determines the status of OMB's process for waiving cybersecurity requirements for IoT devices. To describe overall initiatives, GAO analyzed pertinent guidance and related documentation from several federal agencies.

To assess lead agency actions, GAO first identified the six critical infrastructure sectors considered to have the greatest risk of cyber compromise. From these six, GAO then selected for review three sectors that had extensive use of IoT and OT devices and systems. The three sectors were energy, healthcare and public health, and transportation systems. For each of these, GAO analyzed documentation, interviewed sector officials, and compared lead agency actions to federal requirements.

GAO also analyzed documentation, interviewed officials from the selected sectors, and compared those sector's cybersecurity efforts to federal requirements. GAO also interviewed OMB officials on the status of the mandated waiver process.

The nation's critical infrastructure sectors rely on electronic systems, including Internet of Things (IoT) and operational technology (OT) devices and systems. IoT generally refers to the technologies and devices that allow for the network connection and interaction of a wide array of “things,” throughout such places as buildings, transportation infrastructure, or homes. OT are programmable systems or devices that interact with the physical environment, such as building automation systems that control machines to regulate and monitor temperature.

Figure: Overview of Connected IT, Internet of Things (IoT), and Operational Technology

To help federal agencies and private entities manage the cybersecurity risks associated with IoT and OT, the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have issued guidance and provided resources. Specifically, CISA has published guidance, initiated programs, issued alerts and advisories on vulnerabilities affecting IoT and OT devices, and established working groups on OT. NIST has published several guidance documents on IoT and OT, maintained a center of cybersecurity excellence, and established numerous working groups. In addition, the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council is considering updates to the Federal Acquisition Regulation to better manage IoT and OT cybersecurity risks.

Selected federal agencies with a lead role have reported various cybersecurity initiatives to help protect three critical infrastructure sectors with extensive use of IoT or OT devices and systems.

Title: Sector Lead Agencies' Internet of Things (IoT) or Operational Technology (OT) Cybersecurity Initiatives

Sector (Lead Federal Agency)

Examples of IoT or OT Initiatives

Energy (Department of Energy)

Considerations for OT Cybersecurity Monitoring Technologies guidance provides suggested evaluation considerations for technologies to monitor OT cybersecurity of systems that, for example, distribute electricity through the grid.

Cybersecurity for the Operational Technology Environment methodology aims to enhance energy sector threat detection of anomalous behavior in OT networks, such as electricity distribution networks.

Healthcare and public health (Department of Health and Human Services)

Pre-market Guidance for Management of Cybersecurity identifies issues related to cybersecurity for manufacturers to consider in the design and development of their medical devices, such as diagnostic equipment.

Post-market Management of Cybersecurity in Medical Devices provides recommendations for managing cybersecurity vulnerabilities for marketed and distributed medical devices, such as infusion pumps.

Transportation systems (Departments of Homeland Security and Transportation)

Surface Transportation Cybersecurity Toolkit is designed to provide informative cyber risk management tools and resources for control systems that, for example, function on the mechanics of the vessel.

Department of Homeland Security's Transportation Security Administration's Enhancing Rail Cybersecurity Directive requires actions, such as conducting a cybersecurity vulnerability assessment and developing of cybersecurity incident response plans for higher risk railroads.

Source: GAO analysis of agency documentation │ GAO-23-105327

However, none of the selected lead agencies had developed metrics to assess the effectiveness of their efforts. Further, the agencies had not conducted IoT and OT cybersecurity risk assessments. Both of these activities are best practices. Lead agency officials noted difficulty assessing program effectiveness when relying on voluntary information from sector entities. Nevertheless, without attempts to measure effectiveness and assess risks of IoT and OT, the success of initiatives intended to mitigate risks is unknown.

The Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2020 generally prohibits agencies from procuring or using an IoT device after December 4, 2022, if that device is considered non-compliant with NIST-developed standards. Pursuant to the act, in June 2021 NIST issued a draft guidance document that, among other things, provides information for agencies, companies and industry to receive reported vulnerabilities and for organizations to report found vulnerabilities. The act also requires the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to establish a standardized process for federal agencies to waive the prohibition on procuring or using non-compliant IoT devices if waiver criteria detailed in the act are met.

As of November 22, 2022, OMB had not yet developed the mandated process for waiving the prohibition on procuring or using non-compliant IoT devices. OMB officials noted that the waiver process requires coordination and data gathering with other entities. According to OMB, it is targeting November 2022 for the release of guidance on the waiver process. Given the act's restrictions on agency use of non-compliant IoT devices beginning in December 2022, the lack of a uniform waiver process could result in a range of inconsistent actions across agencies.

Cybersecurity Investments in the EU: Is the Money Enough to Meet the New Cybersecurity Standards?

The European Union Agency for Cybersecurity publishes the latest report on Network and Information Security Investments in the EU providing an insight on how the NIS Directive has impacted the cybersecurity budget of operators over the past year with deep-dives into the Energy and Health sectors.

The report analyses data collected from Operators of Essential Services (OES) and from Digital Service Providers (DSP) identified in the European Union's Directive on Network and Information Security Systems (NIS Directive). The analysis seeks to understand whether those operators have invested their budgets differently over the past year in order to meet the new requirements set by the legislative text.

EU Agency for Cybersecurity, Executive Director, Juhan Lepassaar, declared: “The resilience of our EU critical infrastructures and technologies will highly depend on our ability to make strategic investments. I am confident that we have the competence and skills driving us to achieve our goal, which is to ensure we will have the adequate resources at hand to further develop our cybersecurity capacities across all economic sectors of the EU."

Contextual parameters framing the analysis

The report includes an analysis reaching more than 1000 operators across the 27 EU Member States. Related results show that the proportion of Information Technology (IT) budget dedicated to Information Security (IS) appears to be lower, compared to last year's findings, dropping from 7.7% to 6.7%.

These numbers should be conceived as a general overview of information security spending across a varied typology of strategic sectors. Accordingly, specific macroeconomic contingencies such as COVID19 may have influenced the average results.

What are the key findings?

  • The NIS Directive, other regulatory obligations and the threat landscape are the main factors impacting information security budgets;
  • Large operators invest EUR 120 000 on Cyber Threat Intelligence (CTI) compared to EUR 5 500 for SMEs, while operators with fully internal or insourced SOCs spend around EUR 350 000 on CTI, which is 72% more than the spending of operators with a hybrid SOC;
  • The health and banking sectors bear the heaviest cost among the critical sectors in case of major cybersecurity incidents with the median direct cost of an incident in these sectors amounting to EUR 300 000;
  • 37% of Operators of Essential Services and Digital Service Providers do not operate a SOC; 
  • For 69% the majority of their information security incidents are caused by vulnerabilities in software or hardware products with the health sector declaring the higher number of such incidents;
  • Cyber insurance has dropped to 13% in 2021 reaching a low 30% compared to 2020;
  • Only 5% of SMEs subscribe to cyber insurance;
  • 86% have implemented third-party risks management policies.

Key findings of Health and Energy sectors

  • Health

From a global perspective, investments in ICT for the health sector seem to be greatly impacted by COVID-19 with many hospitals looking for technologies to expand healthcare services to be delivered beyond the geographical boundaries of hospitals. Still, cybersecurity controls remain a top priority for spending with 55% of health operators seeking increased funding for cybersecurity tools.

64% of health operators already resort to connected medical devices and 62% already deployed a security solution specifically for medical devices. Only 27% of surveyed OES in the sector have a dedicated ransomware defence programme and 40% of them have no security awareness programme for non-IT staff.

  • Energy

Oil and gas operators seem to prioritise cybersecurity with investments increasing at a rate of 74%.  Energy sector shows a trend in investments shifting from legacy infrastructure and data centres to cloud services.

However, 32% of operators in this sector do not have a single critical Operation Technology (OT) process monitored by a SOC. OT and IT are covered by a single SOC for 52% of OES in the energy sector.

United States and Spain Announce the Development of a New Capacity Building Tool to Combat Ransomware

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), in partnership with the U.S. Department of State and the Spanish Ministry of the Interior, announced a joint project to develop a capacity-building tool to help countries utilize public-private partnerships (PPPs) to combat ransomware. This project was developed as part of the Second International Counter Ransomware Initiative (CRI) Summit, which was convened in Washington, D.C. The CRI is a global coalition of 36 partner nations and the European Union dedicated to confronting the scourge of ransomware.

The CRI’s Public-Private Partnership (P3) Working Group, chaired by Spain, has focused on the essential need for close collaboration between governments and the private sector to address the challenges posed by ransomware. This tool will provide much needed guidance to nations around the world seeking to develop or deepen such public-private partnerships.

“Building capacity across the world is an essential aspect of our fight against ransomware,” said Brandon Wales, CISA Executive Director. “By learning from each other—public and private sector alike—and sharing that knowledge more broadly, we can effectively protect the critical infrastructure necessary to sustain not only American society, but the global institutions and networks upon which it relies.”

“Spain has the strong conviction that this project will contribute in a decisive manner to expose the most innovative state of the art of PPP best practices to fight against ransomware, said Guillermo Ardizone Garcίa, Political Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Thereby, all multi-stakeholders and partners involved in the CRI will be benefited from this line of action. Spain will actively encourage state and non-state stakeholders to join in this project poised to broadly share the PPP best practices, including creative financing schemes.”

When completed, the tool will feature a series of case studies of PPPs that have been used in the counter-ransomware fight, including those pioneered by members of the CRI P3 Working Group. The tool will highlight the features that made these efforts successful and will be designed to provide practical guidance to countries looking to implement their own PPPs as part of their national counter-ransomware efforts.

To develop the tool, the United States and Spain are partnering with the Global Forum on Cyber Expertise (GFCE), a global leader in cyber capacity building that will commission experts to deliver the tool. Other CRI members have been invited to provide additional financial and practical support to the project.

Volatile Geopolitics Shake the Trends of the 2022 Cybersecurity Threat Landscape

With the geopolitical context giving rise to cyberwarfare and hacktivism, alarming cyber operations and malignant cyberattacks have altered the trends of the 10th edition of the Threat Landscape report released by the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA).

The ENISA Threat Landscape 2022 (ETL) report is the annual report of the EU Agency for Cybersecurity on the state of the cybersecurity threat landscape. The 10th edition covers a period of reporting starting from July 2021 up to July 2022.

With more than 10 terabytes of data stolen monthly, ransomware still fares as one of the prime threats in the new report with phishing now identified as the most common initial vector of such attacks. The other threats to rank highest along ransomware are attacks against availability also called Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.

However, the geopolitical situations particularly the Russian invasion of Ukraine have acted as a game changer over the reporting period for the global cyber domain. While we still observe an increase of the number of threats, we also see a wider range of vectors emerge such as zero-day exploits and AI-enabled disinformation and deepfakes. As a result, more malicious and widespread attacks emerge having more damaging impact.

EU Agency for Cybersecurity Executive Director, Juhan Lepassaar stated that “Today's global context is inevitably driving major changes in the cybersecurity threat landscape. The new paradigm is shaped by the growing range of threat actors. We enter a phase which will need appropriate mitigation strategies to protect all our critical sectors, our industry partners and therefore all EU citizens."

Prominent threat actors remain the same

State sponsored, cybercrime, hacker-for-hire actors and hacktivists remain the prominent threat actors during the reporting period of July 2021 to July 2022.

Based on the analysis of the proximity of cyber threats in relation to the European Union (EU), the number of incidents remains high over the reporting period in the NEAR category. This category includes affected networks, systems, controlled and assured within EU borders. It also covers the affected population within the borders of the EU.

Threat analysis across sectors

Added last year, the threat distribution across sectors is an important aspect of the report as it gives context to the threats identified. This analysis shows that no sector is spared. It also reveals nearly 50% of threats target the following categories; public administration and governments (24%), digital service providers (13%) and the general public (12%) while the other half is shared by all other sectors of the economy.

Top threats still standing their grounds

ENISA sorted threats into 8 groups. Frequency and impact determine how prominent all of these threats still are.

Ransomware:
- 60% of affected organisations may have paid ransom demands
Malware:
- 66 disclosures of zero-day vulnerabilities observed in 2021
Social engineering:
- Phishing remains a popular technique but we see new forms of phishing arising such as spear-phishing, whaling, smishing and vishing
Threats against data:
- Increasing in proportionally to the total of data produced
Threats against availability:
- Largest Denial of Service (DDoS) attack ever was launched in Europe in July 2022;
- Internet: destruction of infrastructure, outages and rerouting of internet traffic.
Disinformation – misinformation:
- Escalating AI-enabled disinformation, deepfakes and disinformation-as-a-service
Supply chain targeting:
- Third-party incidents account for 17% of the intrusions in 2021 compared to less than 1% in 2020

Contextual trends emerging

- Zero-day exploits are the new resource used by cunning threat actors to achieve their goals;
- A new wave of hacktivism has been observed since the Russia-Ukraine war.
- DDoS attacks are getting larger and more complex moving towards mobile networks and Internet of Things (IoT) which are now being used in cyberwarfare.
- AI-enabled disinformation and deepfakes. The proliferation of bots modelling personas can easily disrupt the “notice-and-comment” rulemaking process, as well as the community interaction, by flooding government agencies with fake contents and comments.

Shifting motivation and digital impact are driving new trends

An impact assessment of threats reveals 5 types of impact; damages of reputational, digital, economical, physical or social nature. Although for most incidents the impact really remains unknown because victims fail to disclose information or the information remains incomplete.

Prime threats were analysed in terms of motivation. The study reveals that ransomware is purely motivated by financial gains. However, motivation for state sponsored groups can be drawn from geopolitics with threats such as espionage and disruptions. Ideology may also be the motor behind cyber operations by hacktivists.

NCSC CEO delivers international speech on securing the Internet of Things and smart cities

The head of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, Lindy Cameron, has emphasised the importance of connected technologies being made secure by design in a speech at Singapore International Cyber Week.

Lindy Cameron said the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) has brought benefits for consumers, enterprises and at a city level in connected places, but she highlighted that the associated risks must be managed now to stay ahead of cyber threats.

She outlined how the UK has developed a strong framework for managing the future security of the Internet of Things, including through new legislation, the adoption of international cyber security standards and developing ‘secure by design’ principles to help influence IoT at the design phase.

She called for swift, decisive and ongoing action to ensure connected devices are designed, built, deployed and managed with security as a first-class concern, to prevent malicious actors, improve national resilience and reap benefits of these emerging technologies

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