A New Cyber-Attack Against the Power Grid Concerns the FEDS

According to CBS News a well known cyber security firm is reporting a new wave of cyber-attacks against the American energy sector.  Hackers … code-named DRAGONFLY … first surfaced in 2011 … then went underground.  NOW…THEY ARE BACK.

Cyber-attacks against the American energy sector and American infrastructure in general are nothing new.   There has been growing concern over the past 10-15 years by government officials about this type of attack and a number of attempts have been made.  Even the popular movie “Live Free or Die Hard” focuses on the idea of a “fire sale” – which is an all-out cyberwarfare attack on computer infrastructure, named such as “everything must go”.

What’s the difference between this new wave of cyber-attacks and the original round in 2011?

The original attacks, called “Dragonfly” where originally exposed by a number of researchers in 2011 and 2012 and created a quiet period following attempts to compromise the U.S. Power Grid and other vital infrastructure.

While the new group, called “Dragonfly 2.0” uses many of the means of the original it appears that they are having more success with newer tools to breech computer networks.  In fact, disruptions to the Ukraine’s power system in 2016 were attributed to cyber-attack causing power outages that effected hundreds of thousands of people.

Other reports show of compromise by hackers of the companies that manage nuclear facilities in the U.S. including an attempt on Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation just 2 months ago.

What would be the consequences of a successful cyber-attack against energy infrastructure?

In a very basic sense an attack could result in outages like what happened in the Ukraine creating blackouts in American cities.  As we have seen in the past 10-20 years major blackouts cause a lot of disruption disabling traffic control systems, airports, businesses and other infrastructure.  A prolonged blackout can disable water and sewage infrastructure, cause problems in the availability of food due to lack of refrigeration and transportation.  This is only the start.

If a hacker was able to breach systems in a nuclear facility there is a potential to trigger a meltdown and other catastrophic failures within the power plant.

Why is it so difficult to secure the power grid against cyber-attack?

The power grid in the United States is a compiled set of systems using different types of computers.   Various times of implementation, different operating systems and hardware has been made to work together.  The issue is that what would secure one system may not work for another and the weakest “link” in this chain can compromise everything else.  Add to this that many facilities, generators, delivery systems and other components are run by different companies each with its own approach to cyber-security and you have a system that requires many different approaches to secure.

William (Bill) Sikkens has been a technology expert for KXL on the Morning Show with Steve and Rebecca since 2014. With an expertise in I.T., cyber security and software design he has had more than 20 years’ experience with advanced technology. Sikkens conceptualizes and designs custom applications for many professional industries from health care to banking and has the ability to explain the details in a way all can understand.

Got a technology question or comment for Bill? Follow him on Twitter @sikkensw

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