Building stronger cyber defences -Preparing for the inevitable

Rob Smith
20 November, 23

The construction sector is no stranger to evolving challenges – from ever-changing regulations to breakthrough technologies.  Yet, one escalating concern that isn’t gaining enough attention is cybersecurity.

With a staggering 48% increase in cybercrime losses globally last year alone, the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) sector finds itself at an alarming crossroads. Now, it’s not a matter of if, but when an AEC organisation will face the brunt of a cyberattack.

Understanding the Real Impact of Cyber Crime

The implications of cyber breaches stretch far beyond the obvious financial losses.  Recent ransomware demands, although sensationalised in the media, represent only a fraction of the overall issue.  When considering the magnitude of a breach, firms must account for both immediate and long-term ramifications, including:

  • Operational setbacks and potential service disruptions
  • The true financial burden, which encompasses not just the ransom but also lost revenue during the attack period
  • Legal implications and subsequent costs associated with threat actor negotiations and data restoration.

Staying a Step Ahead in an Evolving Threat Landscape

In the past few years, we’ve seen high-profile lapses in cybersecurity within the construction sector. Interserve faced a substantial £4.4 million penalty from The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for inadequately safeguarding employee information during a 2020 data breach. Similarly, Andrade Gutierrez, a leading Brazilian construction firm, recently grappled with a significant data compromise, losing around 3 terabytes of critical business emails and internal data to a hacker collective known as ‘Dark Angels.’ In another incident, The Lagan Specialist Contract Group, headquartered in Belfast, fell victim to the LockBit Group—the same cybercriminal organisation behind the recent Royal Mail attack. This incident holds broader implications, given Lagan SCG’s diverse operations spanning Ireland, Britain, the United States, and Dubai, as well as its involvement in numerous aviation construction projects.

During the first eight months of 2023, the world has seen a number of significant cyber threats. These have included Twitter’s massive data breach compromising almost half of its user base and the recent data mishap at the University of Manchester affecting over a million NHS patients, the message is clear: no sector is truly safe.

Cybercriminal enterprises have evolved to operate on a scale that rivals established corporations, complete with organisational structures that mimic those of tech companies, including customer support and external relations divisions.  These highly organised entities channel billions of dollars into their own growth, research, and innovation, ensuring that they remain steps ahead of overstretched cybersecurity measures to secure enormous financial gains.

The AEC industry must comprehend the scale of cybercrime and align its defences accordingly.  The 2023 Cyber Threat Report reveals 10 critical trends – insights that can guide firms in bolstering their security layers.

However, the pivotal question remains: Where does your organisation stand in this vast spectrum of threats, and how close are you to your target state of security?

Achieving True Business Resilience in AEC

Achieving robust cyber resilience demands a holistic view of security. Traditional security solutions, while still valuable, may not suffice in the modern digital ecosystem.  The AEC sector needs to:

  1. Broaden its security horizon: Almost half of all security incidents in 2022 originated or persisted in cloud-based systems. This underlines the importance of securing beyond just endpoint devices.
  2. Accelerate response times: Speed is of the essence.  With IBM and Ponemon revealing an average detection-to-containment time of nearly nine months, firms must act faster to mitigate risks.
  3. Invest in continuous security operations: 24/7/365 operations, enriched with cybersecurity expertise, are crucial.  It’s not just about having the right tools but also about integrating technology, people, and processes seamlessly.

Navigating the intricate maze of cybersecurity might appear daunting for many AEC firms, especially with the added pressures of compliance and the constant evolution of threats. However, partnering with specialist Security Operations Centres (SOC) can bridge this gap effectively. Such collaborations ensure proactive, robust, and sustainable security postures, helping AEC firms detect and address threats faster while also enhancing long-term resilience.

In an era where cyber threats loom large, AEC firms must rise to the challenge, redefine their security blueprints, and ensure that their operations remain fortified against ever-evolving risks. 

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