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Strengthening Cybersecurity: The Imperative of Testing Controls against PRC State-Sponsored Cyber Attacks in Texas Mid-Market Manufacturing Firms

The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) recently issued an advisory (AA23-144A), underscoring the persistent threat posed by PRC state-sponsored cyber actors. This advisory detailed how these actors employ the Living off the Land technique, exploiting commonly used software, tools, and protocols, and blending their malicious activities within regular network traffic. Consequently, the threat is difficult to detect and can linger undetected within networks for extended durations.

Faced with such sophisticated threats, firms must proactively test their cyber controls. The importance of identifying system vulnerabilities susceptible to exploitation using the Living off the Land technique cannot be overstated. Testing controls also presents the opportunity to understand the modus operandi of these cyber actors, enabling firms to adopt proactive measures to counter these threats.

The mid-market manufacturing firms in the Defense Industrial Base (DIB) in Texas operate in a world of unprecedented cyber threats, with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) state-sponsored cyber actors being of notable concern. These malicious actors use a technique referred to as “Living off the Land,” leveraging legitimate processes and services within a system to infiltrate and evade detection. Understanding why these firms should robustly test their cyber controls in this context is crucial for national security and industrial resilience.

Today’s globalized marketplace has created interdependencies that significantly threaten national security. For example, Texas, a significant contributor to the U.S. DIB, has experienced the strategic focus of PRC’s cyber actors on mid-market manufacturing firms. These organizations, often less equipped to withstand sophisticated cyber threats than larger counterparts, are considered soft targets, and their compromise can negatively impact U.S. defense capabilities.

One primary reason to test cyber controls is the proliferation of the Living off the Land technique. This strategy sees PRC state-sponsored cyber actors exploit commonly used software, tools, and protocols, effectively masking their activities amidst regular network traffic. It’s an alarming prospect, given that these attacks are hard to detect and can persist in networks undetected for extended periods.

Thoroughly testing controls provides an opportunity to identify vulnerabilities within the system that may be exploited using the Living off the Land technique. It also allows organizations to understand how these actors operate, enabling them to take proactive measures to mitigate the risk of infiltration.

Moreover, the constant evolution of cyber threats necessitates the frequent testing of controls. The PRC’s cyber capabilities are evolving, continuously seeking new ways to exploit vulnerabilities in their targets. Staying ahead of these threats requires constant vigilance, regular review, and updating of cyber controls. The ability to anticipate and swiftly respond to these ever-changing threats hinges on a keen understanding of the landscape, which is only achievable through regular testing.

Additionally, the potential economic impact of a successful cyber-attack on mid-market manufacturing firms cannot be overstated. From production disruptions to the leakage of sensitive information, the financial repercussions can be crippling. Such firms play a significant role in the Texas economy, and the broader U.S. DIB, and their compromise could have a cascading effect on the economic and security landscape.

The regulatory environment necessitates robust testing of cyber controls. For example, regulations such as the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) require that DIB contractors demonstrate a level of cybersecurity maturity that matches the sensitivity of their work. Regular testing of controls helps meet these regulatory requirements but also helps create a cybersecurity culture within the organization.

All in all, testing cyber controls in mid-market manufacturing firms in Texas within the DIB is not a choice but a necessity. To remain resilient, these firms must adopt robust and frequently tested controls amid sophisticated PRC state-sponsored cyber threats. By understanding and preempting the techniques used by malicious actors, these firms can maintain the integrity of their networks and continue to contribute safely and securely to U.S. defense capabilities.

Brad Hudson

Cybersecurity Practice Leader

About Columbia Advisory Group

Founded in Dallas in 2012, Columbia Advisory Group LLC (CAG) is an established IT consulting firm renowned for delivering cost-effective, meaningful, and practical IT solutions that solve complex business problems. Our seasoned teams offer comprehensive insight across diverse regulatory and economic environments, providing unbiased, straightforward analysis and recommendations. We pride ourselves on our deep understanding of IT while remaining software and hardware-agnostic. Regardless of your organization’s growth trajectory or economic landscape, we at CAG are adept at adapting to your unique needs and complexity, offering tailored solutions to drive your success.

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