For years, cybersecurity experts have warned of the threat of hackers to critical infrastructure. On multiple occasions, intrusions have been detected for critical components of the power grid and other critical infrastructure. However, until recently, these intrusions were focused on testing capabilities rather than carrying through on an actual attack.

Cyber-Physical Attacks Are Already a Reality

In March 2019, a DDoS attack impacted the operations of an electric utility company. More recently, an attack against a water processing plant in Florida in February 2021 allowed attackers to change the mixture of chemicals in the water, essentially changing it to lye. If the attack had not been detected by a worker and subsequently reversed, it could have badly sickened anyone who drank it.

These attacks on public utilities are not the only way in which cyberattacks can have impacts on the physical world. Another prime example is the healthcare sector. In 2020, 560 healthcare providers were the victim of ransomware attacks, degrading their ability to provide crucial services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cyber threats can have more personal impacts as well as demonstrated by pacemaker vulnerabilities that can allow the installation of malware that delivers life-threatening shocks or ransomware that forces patients to pay up or risk having their pacemaker shut down.

Identifying the Risks of Your Internet-Connected Systems

In the critical infrastructure and healthcare sectors, the overlap between cybersecurity and the physical world is easy to see. However, as businesses become more reliant on Internet-connected systems, the physical risks of cyber threats will continue to grow. Some examples of Internet-connected systems in the modern office that pose physical threats include:

  • Operational Technology: Devices that interact with the physical environment (industrial control systems, fire control systems, access management systems, etc.) or control these systems and that are accessible from the network or public Internet.
  • Door Locks: Smart door locks could be compromised by an attacker. If no physical override exists, this could lock people inside or outside of a door.
  • Thermostats: Internet-connected thermostats allow a building’s internal temperature to be controlled remotely. This could be used to cause illness to residents or potentially starts a fire by overheating machinery.

While many organizations do not operate critical infrastructure, medical facilities, or have OT systems on their networks, Internet-connected door locks, thermostats and other Internet of Things (IoT) devices are common in the modern office. While these smart devices are convenient, they also pose both cyber and physical threats to an organization.

How MorganFranklin Can Help 

As the digital and physical worlds become more intertwined, strong cybersecurity becomes a vital part of protecting the health and safety of an organization’s employees and customers. However, the physical risks associated with an organization’s digital devices may be hard to determine.

MorganFranklin can help an organization to identify and manage these risks. This includes every stage of the process from initial risk assessments to designing and implementing policies and solutions to help address these potential risks. In cases like the Florida water treatment center – where critical infrastructure was remotely accessible via a shared password on an end-of-life system with no firewall – the importance of having the correct solutions in place can be vital to the safety of employees and customers.

Talk to one of our cybersecurity experts