Data published online by industrial firms could be used to mount a cyber attack against UK critical infrastructure, according to research published by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).
The research report 'Using Open Source Intelligence to Improve ICS & SCADA Security', conducted by engineering consultancy Atkins, claims that key information is being made freely available through websites and academic papers published online.
Such information could easily be combined and used to support a cyber attack against critical infrastructure, the report claims. For example, potential attackers are able to identify known vulnerabilities and exploits that can be carried out against certain control systems.
Also, information made available through various blogs, social networking sites and specialist online publications can provide identification of individuals to be targeted as part of a cyber attack.
Dr Richard Piggin, head of control systems security consulting at Atkins, said the research revealed that freely-available open source tools could be used in the "identification of networked control systems, their vulnerabilities - and the exploits that may be used to attack them".
"The research demonstrates the low level of technical knowledge that is required to successfully mount an attack against industrial control systems," he said.
Hugh Boyes from the IET added that in order to prevent such attacks, awareness needs to be raised over what information is made publically available, with companies taking better control of their data.
"There continues to be real and growing threats to our interests in cyberspace. The availability of open source tools makes it easier to locate and attack or interfere with poorly protected control systems,"
He added: "Working with industry to raise awareness of the issue and to promote the development of suitably skilled cyber security professionals [is key]."
Yesterday business secretary Vince Cable said that companies supplying the UK's critical services - such as those in telecoms, banking and energy sectors - will be required to adopt stronger security measures and work with government on addressing the growing cyber threat for businesses.
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