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Blackouts, power cuts and security failures

Dec 27 – In October, cyber criminals managed to steal data from multiple U.S. electric utilities, stoking fears around power service disruptions. At present, agencies are continuing to monitor the incident for potential large-scale impact. The stolen data has not yet appeared on the dark web, although some power company executives believe that it might.

What happened

This previously unreported incident highlights how ransomware attacks that affect critical infrastructure entities are sometimes managed; quietly, with lawyers and federal investigators who investigate and triage damage.

Two anonymous sources have informed media outlets that this incident was contained and resolved. It does not appear to have affected an extended roster of entities or individuals.

More cyber attacks

When data from electric or nuclear power groups is compromised, experts worry that cyber attackers could leverage the information for subsequent, more sophisticated and more seriously damaging cyber attacks.

The idea of further power-sector cyber attacks becomes even more unnerving in light of a recent spate of physical attacks on electric utility plants across the United States.

In North Carolina, tens of thousands of individuals lost power this month after an individual opened fire near an energy facility. The gunman has not yet been found. Mere days ago, on Christmas day, 14,000 customers in Washington state were without power after a series of public utility substations were vandalized.

Energy sector incidents

In terms of total energy sector incidents, the number of recent physical attacks have been unusually high. While only a small percentage of the total number of incidents have pertained to cyber security specifically, any disruption to power system services can potentially create a significant public disturbance with devastating consequences.

For cyber criminals and other aggrieved malcontents, power stations can represent an attractive target, as their disruption can have a tremendous effect on industry, individuals and government functions.

A growing issue

Over the coming decades, the U.S. is due to expand its power-sector. Expansion plans include the development of solar power plants in remote areas within the country. Experts note that this may lead to a greater number of entry points for attacks than an individual power plant would otherwise present.

Protecting critical infrastructure

The specter of a power grid attack looms large, and could lead to nightmare scenarios. From financial gain, to identity politics, to sabotage, the reasons for orchestrating breaches of power systems remain diverse. However, the resolve to prevent power-system failures and fiascos is critical and needs to remain constant.

Ensure the safety and integrity of your environment. For more information about how to protect the power grid, please see CyberTalk.org’s critical infrastructure eBook. For more information about Industrial Control System (ICS) security solutions, click here.

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