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Utility Analytics Systems Must Focus on Rising Ransomware Threats

Shutterstock / By Mila Supinskaya Glashchenko

The utility industry must take cybersecurity very seriously. In recent years, a number of incidents have highlighted the risks they face. However, the threat of ransomware is one of the fastest growing epidemics facing the industry.

Ransomware is the newest malware epidemic to threaten companies around the globe. This type of malware hasn’t received as much attention as it should, because it is much more recent than a lot of other types of malware. The first ransomware attempt actually predates the existence of the World Wide Web. It was launched in 1989, when Harvard Professor Dr. Joseph L Popp tried to dupe and extort some of his colleagues at a World Health Organization conference on AIDS.

Although Dr. Popp’s strategy was one of the first and most brilliant attempts to launch a malware attack, other online criminals didn’t follow his lead for many years. It wasn’t until 2005 when hackers tried to push more malware attacks.

The utility sector has become one of the preferred targets of ransomware attacks. They must use more sophisticated data analytics driven strategies to fight ransomware risks.

The Utility Sector Invests in Better Data Analytics Tools – But is it Focusing Enough on Anti-Ransomware Applications?

The average layman believes that the utility industry is slow to adapt to changes in technology. At first glance, it appears that software developers, healthcare providers and financial institutions are driving the majority of technological breakthroughs. However, the utility industry is actually highly responsive to new advances in technology.

Data analytics is one example. According to a report by Bain and Company, the utility sector is investing more heavily in data analytics than ever before. Data analytics plays an important role in improving efficiency, reducing costs, meeting compliance targets and maximizing customer satisfaction.

While the industry is quick to apply new technology to improve operations, there are some other concerns that go unnoticed. The rising threat of ransomware is among them.

Ransomware risks must be addressed by data analytics solutions

The utility sector is one of those most heavily targeted by ransomware. According to T&D World, nine of the companies that were identified victims of the WannaCry ransomware virus were major utility companies.

The WannaCry virus wasn’t the only type of ransomware to exploit the utility sector. In November 2018, the Onslow Water and Sewer Authority (ONWASA), a major South Carolina water company was targeted by a ransomware attack during the aftermath of the worst hurricane the state had seen in years. This suggests that hackers using ransomware might be more inclined to go after utility companies in the midst of a major emergency, because they know they are highly vulnerable then. The report on the incident showed that the company was not prepared for the attack and failed to take action before it could be easily contained.

“IT staff took immediate action to protect system resources by disconnecting ONWASA from the internet, but the crypto-virus spread quickly along the network, encrypting databases and files.”

The consequences of these attacks are severe. A ransomware attack could demand massive fees that the utility company couldn’t afford. Even if the company does agree to the fee, they hackers may not remove the malware. The malware could also cause damage for days before it is even discovered and a ransom is demanded. This could cause immeasurable problems, including:

  • Hospitals being unable to care for patients
  • Communities losing billions from business closures
  • Households being driven into severe anxiety
  • Crime rates skyrocketing due to security systems failing and a lack of lighting

This highlights the need for stronger cybersecurity protections. Many utility companies will need to repurpose their data analytics systems to respond to the growing threat.

New data analytics technology is capable of identifying ransomware and helping cybersecurity experts take prompt action. These applications are able to discover ransomware threats by looking at numerous variables, including rising data usage rates. This can help them respond in real-time. This is essential because ransomware can spread very quickly, as the ONWASA discovered.

Ryan Kh's picture

Thank Ryan for the Post!

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