Energy execs may be too confident in ability to detect threats as cyber attacks increase

Tripwire survey finds energy sector faces unique challenges as attacks increase.
Tripwire survey finds energy sector faces unique challenges as attacks increase.

As attacks against the energy sector continue to increase, executives in the industry were nearly twice as likely as non-execs to believe their organizations detect all cyberattacks, according to a recent survey.

The Tripwire 2016 Energy Survey: Attacks on the Rise queried 150 IT professionals in the energy, utilities, and oil and gas industries, finding that 41 percent of energy executives answered in the affirmative when asked if they were confident that their organization detects all cyberattacks compared to 17 percent of non-energy executives.

As an executive, you always see the shiniest reports from both vendors and internal staff concerning cyber threats compared to the non execs who deal with the day to day tasks of threat detection, Tripwire's Director of IT Security and Risk Strategy Tim Erlin said in comments emailed to SCMagazine.com.

“Closing that gap requires that executives be exposed to more of the details that make attack detection difficult,” Erlin said. “Whether or not you've detected an attack isn't always black and white, and nonexecutives often have more experience with the technical details of how attacks are experienced inside an organization.”

Erlin said he didn't see the gap closing anytime soon as the rate of attacks increase.

Seventy-seven percent of respondents said the number of successful cyberattacks their organization has experienced increased in the past 12 months.

Under half, or 44 percent, reported an increase of between 50-100 percent in the rate of successful cyberattacks while 21 percent said they increased between 20-50 percent and 19 percent reported an increase of between 10-20 percent.

Erlin also noted that “the pendulum” in cybersecurity often swings between threat detection and threat prevention. Once organizations see an increase in detected attacks that are still effective, the industry will shift its focus to prevention, he said.

That mentality presents a problem in that the shift will then result in more attacks going undetected, Erlin said, who urged companies to focus on striking a balance between the two instead.

In addition to an uptick in attacks, factors unique to the energy sector, such as networked components with a physical connection to the environment and regulations that differ across localities, also could affect the industry's ability to secure its systems Erlin said.

Despite those shortcomings, he noted that some progress is being made in the industry. Officials are starting to have more conversations about the challenges of securing its technology, said Erlin, and are conducting more research into finding solutions.

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