Power Grids are a significant target for Hackers
Imagine this apocalyptical scenario: lights in your city go out, networks go dark, public transport stops. Suddenly, everything shuts down because hackers have targeted the power grids. Sounds scary, right? The problem is, this is not just the imagination of some Hollywood screenwriter – tech developments are revolutionising many industries making cyber attacks probable, and it’s already happening around the globe. Hackers are often targeting energy and power networks with an aim to blackmail countries.
Ukraine’s power grid was attacked twice. The first attack happened in 2015, when about 700,000 people in the Western regions were left without power for six hours. The attackers used a virus to disconnect the grid. In 2016, the country’s power grid was attacked again. This time, the shutdown lasted for only one hour and targeted a smaller area. Reports stated that both attacks were performed by a group of hackers supported by the Russian government.
When asked about their most important risks, 80% of global utility and power companies said that interruptions caused by storms, catastrophic events, and cyber hacks were their main concerns. This comes as no surprise considering the global attacks on big targets like the NHS in Britain and Spanish telecommunications.
Several months ago, the Irish transmission and electricity control system was also attacked. Even though the systems continued to operate, the attack was detected two months after it had actually happened.
A few months later, there was an attempted cyber attack on manufacturing plants, energy facilities, and companies that operate with nuclear power in the United States and several other countries. This resulted in President Trump issuing Executive Order 13800 to strengthen the cybersecurity of US networks and critical infrastructure in 2017.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology was attacked back in 2015. It was discovered that the attack originated from another country’s intelligence service. This institution is considered a vital national resource, and another country would place a high value on its intellectual property and scientific research. In 2015 and 2016, the Australian Cyber Security Centre detected more than 1,000 serious cybersecurity incidents, which targeted government systems.
Is There a Solution?
Having all this in mind, it would be naïve to believe any nation in the world is immune to cyber attacks. Australia’s Attorney General, George Brandis believes foreign involvement (outsourcing, supply chain arrangements, ownership, and offshoring) of vital infrastructure increases the vulnerability to sabotage, espionage, and coercion.
In reality, it is very likely every global power grid will at some stage be under attack. Whether that cyber attack will be a success will depend on the country’s preparedness and ability to defend the power grid. Utility companies need to be sure that their operating model would be efficient in case of a cyber attack and whether they would be able to recover quickly.