The construction industry has seen revolutionary changes in the past decade due to the increased use of widespread use of emerging technologies. While the advancement in these technologies bring incredible benefits to business operations, they come with inevitable vulnerabilities.
With the increase in technology use, along with how reliant construction companies have become on them, the construction industry has become a cybercriminal's prime target. In recent years, we have seen several high-profile cyber attacks targeting major construction contractors, often causing project delays, financial extortion, and other negative effects to essential business operations.
Though the construction industry is more at risk than ever, a proactive approach to cybersecurity can avoid major breaches or other security incidents from happening. In this article, we’ll explain the major types of cyber threats targeting the construction industry, their impacts on business continuity, and how to defend against them despite the operating size of your business.
Threat actors today are persistent; they employ both basic and sophisticated attack methods to cause harm to unsuspecting targets. Some of the most prevalent cyber threats targeting the construction industry are:
Ransomware attacks: a security breach in which a threat actor holds a computer system hostage in exchange for ransom payments can make it difficult for a construction company to access essential systems, thus severely disrupting business operations. Many companies may have no choice but to pay the ransom. However, ransomware can damage an organization's reputation more than financial losses.
Malicious software (malware distribution): specialized malware comes in a wide variety of flavors, with some designed to gain permanent network access, while the others spy on users to steal sensitive information and wreak havoc in any way possible.
Zero-day attacks: occur when cybercriminals discover an undetected flaw in widely used software applications and operating systems, then target organizations that use the software to exploit the flaw before a patch is available.
Insider Threats: these threat actors are easily the most dangerous because they have the kingdom's keys and know how to access highly sensitive business assets. Often, an insider threat stems from current or former employees who are disgruntled, afraid, or simply naive or unaware of the dangers targeting their organization.
Business Email Compromise (BEC): threat actors employ this social engineering threat, which leverages human weaknesses, to execute their plan. BEC uses spear-phishing, whaling, or CEO fraud tactics to trick an employee with elevated access into granting access to otherwise protected, privileged accounts. The goal is to fraudulently access company funds and divert them to an unknown account.
Construction companies have more complexities than meets the eye. The construction industry is unique, and the implications of a breach are unique, too. Because of this, cyber criminals hit companies where it’ll hurt the most, like:
Hackers are increasingly targeting the construction industry's supply chain, which can lead to the loss of sensitive customer data and foster a domino effect of ransomware assaults. If these organizations are compromised, the attacker can use them as a springboard to attack the systems and employees of other associated enterprises. Many smaller-scale businesses rely on outsourcing and third-party vendors for everyday business operations, more so than their larger-scale counterparts. This is a cybercriminals jackpot: breaching one small business can give them just as much, if not more, data than hacking an enterprise-level business itself. Unfortunately, about one-third of businesses fail to check their suppliers' cybersecurity arrangements routinely, and nearly half forget to specify security criteria for their suppliers. Due to these discrepancies, compromising one organization can give cyber attackers easy access to the systems and employees of other enterprises.
Cybercriminals attack the most critical business assets a company has. For example, cybercriminals could target payment processing systems, booking systems, or even something as simple as a construction warehouse's physical alarms or HVAC systems. If an attack hits payroll or accounting software, employees and contractors won’t get paid for their work. Further, threat actors can disrupt business continuity by prohibiting users from using systems or equipment, thus delaying key deliverables and causing financial and reputational damages.
The designs and schematics that construction firms save and manipulate in their systems are often highly confidential. Other technological utilities and vendor supply chains can suffer devastating consequences if sensitive information is compromised or these systems are breached.
Businesses in the construction industry can leverage physical, technical, and management security controls to manage cyber risks specific to their industry. The main problem often lies in the implementation and maintenance of the chosen solution. Below are examples of cyber protective mechanisms contractors can apply immediately to secure their crown jewels:
Sustaining good security hygiene for less mature businesses demands lots of work, both upfront and as regular maintenance. By implementing Endpoint Threat Detection, however, companies are able to protect their devices, servers, and networks. This creates a strong first layer to a resilient cybersecurity posture. As the first line of defense to combat cyber attacks, competent endpoint detection and mitigation mechanisms provide a deep dive analysis of growing threats in respective sectors. Implementing a robust endpoint threat detection and mitigation mechanism empowers the construction sector to stay one step ahead of adversaries.
As much as we hate to say it, humans are often the weakest link. Biologically, we are easily influenced by emotions, such as anger, ego, or even carelessness. Unlike AI or machine learning, humans can also overlook crucial details, no matter how great of an employee they are. Therefore, robust security awareness training is crucial in a fast-paced environment like manufacturing and construction to help employees distinguish between fake and legitimate emails or URLs. Also, training on how to respond to threats helps to reduce security incidents.
The patching cadence of an organization is a viable performance indicator to gauge the incident response maturity level. Unfortunately, threat actors understand that the average time to patch a reported vulnerability is typically 90-120 days; therefore, many business critical systems are left vulnerable to some of the most elementary cyber threats. By simply implementing a robust patching cadence, organizations can reduce the potency of most cyber threats.
Organizations should use an asset management system to maintain a record of all computing assets, including hardware and software. Maintaining a robust asset inventory will make it easier to know which hardware or software needs a security patch or an operating system update. In addition, leaving outdated systems on your network allows attackers to break in, create backdoors, and steal elevated privileges.
Role-based access control provides access to network resources based on a user's role in an organization. For example, organizations assign rights (read, write, store, etc.) to system users, such as administrators, specialized users, or end users. This access control type ensures that employees only have access to the information needed to perform tasks associated with their role and prohibits them from obtaining additional access beyond their job requirements.
Role-based access control (RBAC) provides a greater granularity of access rights for construction firms retaining high-end hardware and digital equipment. It is recommended practice by security professionals to grant users the fewest permissions for their task completion while developing your access control strategy. Access controls, if applied smartly, can protect organizations from undesired situations.
The truth of the matter is that effectively managing cybersecurity is a heavy lift. Small and mid-sized businesses, especially in the construction space, may not have the budget or resources for enterprise-level tools or expensive MSSP contracts, and many solutions aren’t intimately aware of the risks specific to the construction industry. Doing ample research and finding the right tool, platform, or partner will reduce risk, frustration, and confusion when it comes to keeping your business secure.
In 2021, the construction sector was ranked third in the likelihood of ransomware attacks—it's clear that the construction industry is no longer immune to cyber threats. According to Cybersecurity Ventures, ransomware will cost businesses more than $20 billion in damage this year because today's cybercriminals employ advanced attack methods to achieve their end goal of ransomware attacks, data theft, extortion, etc.
However, with the proper tools and processes in place, a contractor will be able to perform thorough risk assessments, identify malicious network behaviors, identify system vulnerabilities, and deploy mitigative solutions in an automated manner. Additionally, contractors should consider partnering with trusted cybersecurity partners with the capabilities to deliver proactive cyber defenses against the growing cyber threat landscape.
If you need a cybersecurity solution that was designed for small and mid-sized construction businesses, ContraForce is the platform for you. Get a custom demo of the platform here.