Australian industrial organisations are the fourth most targeted globally

Palo Alto Networks

Thursday, 30 May, 2024

Australian industrial organisations are the fourth most targeted globally

Palo Alto Networks has published its ‘State of OT Security: A Comprehensive Guide to Trends, Risks, and Cyber Resilience’ report. The report surveyed 1979 operational technology (OT) and IT business leaders across 23 countries globally, including 103 leaders in Australia, to understand the trends, risks and cyber resilience strategies within OT environments, offering insights into the challenges faced by organisations across the globe.

Industrial operations across Australia are increasingly under regular and widespread cyber attacks, forcing operational shutdowns that result in lost revenue and significant remediation costs. At the same time, operators face increased compliance requirements as well as new risks posed by their adoption of new technologies and processes, including AI, remote access, cloud, 5G and robotics. As a result, industrial operators are increasingly conscious of the need to adapt cybersecurity to the new demands of the day.

Key findings from the report reveal a concerning landscape in OT security.

Australian industrial operators the fourth most targeted globally

Industrial operations were once believed to be immune to cyber attacks given their air-gapped systems, legacy assets, proprietary technologies and fragmented end markets. This is no longer the case. 82% of Australian respondents stated that their organisations had experienced a cyber attack in the past year — the fourth largest target globally.

Equally alarming is the frequency of these attacks, with 70% of respondents experiencing attacks often monthly or weekly.

Cyber attacks can shut down Australian OT operations

The impact of these attacks has been significant, with over a quarter (28.6%) of Australian organisations having to shut down industrial operations in the last year due to a successful attack, whether as a pre-emptive measure or due to actual disruption. This dangerous state of affairs is driving industrial operators to increasingly focus on security for their OT environments; with nearly two-thirds (61.2%) of Australian OT and IT leaders considering it a high priority and 52% expecting increased spending on OT cybersecurity in the next two years. Despite this awareness, Australia sits in the bottom half globally in OT security prioritisation, behind Germany, Japan and Italy.

Friction between OT and IT still a challenge

Despite the urgency, there remains a disconnect between OT and IT teams, hindering coordinated responses to threats, especially regarding security investment. When asked to describe the relationship between OT and IT, 40% of respondents stated that it was frictional, with only 14% answering that their teams are aligned. Furthermore, only 42% of respondents reported shared responsibility for OT cybersecurity purchase decisions between the two teams. This disparity is due to the historical roles of both teams, with IT traditionally being in charge of company-wide security, while OT has historically focused on industrial operations.

AI is a double-edged sword

AI has already caught the attention of industrial operators, but the judgement on its value is split between fear of AI-enabled attacks and demand for AI-enabled protection. The survey found that 75% of Australian respondents identified AI attacks against OT as a critical issue today, but 8 out of 10 also agreed that AI will be key to stopping OT attacks.

The move to cloud will reinforce OT security

AI is not the only new technology making its way into OT environments, with operators also getting ready to implement cloud solutions, among others. The report found that 80% of Australian respondents believed the move to cloud will reinforce OT security. However, over half (54%) of them also stated it would create increased cybersecurity challenges in the next two years.

Zero trust is the North Star

The report also underscores the criticality of embracing a zero trust approach to OT security, with 84% of industrial respondents endorsing it as the right strategy. However, deployment rates remain relatively low, with just under a third of respondents having fully implemented zero trust solutions for their OT/IT environments.

The report can be found here.

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