How Russian cybersecurity threats reached a small-town Ohio manufacturer

When a cybersecurity “Shields Up” warning went out to U.S. companies after Russia invaded Ukraine, a small Ohio parts manufacturer was on guard to protect the company’s networked equipment and connected data.

worker in metal factory using welding tools

Even small-town companies like G&W Products, a metal fabricator in Ohio, were affected by cybersecurity warnings.

Photo by Josh Beech on Unsplash

When Jeff Karan received a “Shields Up” warning email from the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency last week, the director of Enterprise Technology at G&W Products in Fairfield, Ohio, was already well-prepared for potential cyberattacks.

But the email showed Karan, part of a two-person team managing data and security for the metal fabrication company, how a war brewing in Ukraine can be felt even inside a small Cincinnati-area business 5,000 miles away.

As a military contractor making parts that end up in defense equipment, G&W is among the types of businesses likely to receive security threat notifications from federal agencies. “If you have a cage code, basically you’re on their radar,” Karan said, referring to the five-digit “commercial and government entity” codes assigned to companies contracted to do federal government work.

The CISA alert on Feb. 22 was prompted by expectations of disruptive cyber activity in retaliation for sanctions imposed on Russia by the U.S. and its allies in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The warning eventually was picked up by media coverage that helped spread the message to businesses and everyday people who didn’t receive direct notices.

G&W’s equipment and devices are internally networked and also connected to the internet. It uses cloud-based enterprise resource planning software to manage and analyze HR, accounting, materials inventory and more. While this has helped the company be more efficient than in the past, when paper or offline tools like Excel spreadsheets led to problems such as excess raw materials piling up on the factory floor, these connected systems are also vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Karan said he felt confident that the safeguards his company has in place to protect and monitor hundreds of electronic devices connected to the company’s network are strong. Systems and data are backed up, and G&W employees are trained to watch out for phony ecommerce order notifications and not to click on suspicious email links or attachments that could launch malware.

Despite the precautions, Karan said, “Our main focus is cybersecurity right now.”

‘They can’t continue manufacturing parts’

Even missteps inside a small manufacturer like G&W could affect multiple connected companies and systems, said Michael Sentonas, CTO of CrowdStrike, a global cybersecurity company that helps businesses conduct threat intelligence and incident response. “They’ve got suppliers, they’re attached to other systems. It spreads from their partners down the line,” he said.

Right now, Sentonas said he and others are not only expecting denial-of-service and ransomware attacks to eventually emerge in relation to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but a new type of attack that targets hard drives by running malicious files in an attempt to shut down systems. CrowdStrike noticed a so-called “DriveSlayer” show up on Feb. 23 in a public repository of malware, Sentonas said. That malware mapped back to an IP address in Ukraine and was reported as targeting systems in the country.

A drive-wiping attack could force a partsmaker to stop production, he said. “They can’t continue manufacturing parts,” Sentonas said. “It will take a lot of work to get that service re-enabled if computer networks are taken down.”

Cyberattacks can affect any company in the supply chain, “whether you bottle pickles or make parts that go into an M15,” said Cathy Pitt, chief security officer at Plex Systems, which provides the smart manufacturing platform used by G&W.

Going offline, disrupting inventory analytics

Sometimes companies providing non-essential services, such as manufacturers, might go offline entirely to prevent a possible cyberattack or the further spread of an attack, which could slow down or stop production if manufacturing equipment is reliant on internet connectivity. But that could affect a business for months to come in other ways, said Dave Morfas, director of Product Marketing at Plex Systems. If companies are tracking and forecasting inventory electronically, he said, inventory controls could be disrupted, making it difficult to know the amount of raw materials in stock or to predict what’s needed in the future.

“Now it affects your forecasting,” Morfas said. “It affects your whole bottom line.”

In general, Pitt said government suppliers such as equipment manufacturers or food purveyors are typically notified directly by respective federal agencies if they should take a system offline. “The government actually is pretty good at this aspect of this,” Pitt said.

Although connections between Plex and its partners are encrypted, Pitt said government contractors, particularly defense contractors, shouldn’t have top-secret data stored inside Plex, much less other manufacturing or analytics software platforms. For one thing, cyberattacks or data leaks could put U.S. defense structure at risk. “Blueprints for a fighter jet should not be in Plex,” Pitt said.

When she saw the Shields Up warning, Pitt said she wasn’t surprised. “It was just raising awareness that everything can hit the fan,” she said. Her immediate response was to send an email to all Plex employees telling them to increase their level of awareness. She also asked her own security team to be on the lookout for anomalous or excessive traffic emanating from specific places, something they already do.

“It’s not like suddenly we turn something on,” Pitt said.


Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

Keep ReadingShow less
Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

Keep ReadingShow less
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

Keep ReadingShow less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

Keep ReadingShow less
Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.


Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

Keep ReadingShow less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories