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Energy sector stepping up to cyber threats

Energy is a strategic industry sector, which, like others, is grappling with a growing number of evolving cyber-security threats. “There are opportunities throughout the life-cycle for threat actors to attack the system, disrupt services, steal information, and gain from security lapses,” says Duncan Page, cyber specialist PWC. For many, Page observes,” it is a game of catch-up, as they seek to protect vital command, control, and distribution systems from increasingly professional cyber criminals, able to threaten the integrity of pipelines, power grids and energy storage facilities”. The big fear is that a cyber- attack could cripple a country’s nuclear plants, energy infrastructure or vital operations.

Recent major incidents

Cyber criminals, just like state agencies, may attack any part of an energy company’s value chain that is connected to the internet. For example, an attack last summer caused a 3- hour loss of power to 225,000 customers in Western Ukraine, reports BBC July 2017. In essence, the attackers overwrote the utility’s firmware on critical devices and, although onsite technicians manually overrode the circuit breaks and restored power, two months later the utility’s control centres were still not operational. Commenting, Cliff Wilson, Associate Partner, IBM Security, UK & Ireland  says, “this was likely a training exercise to refine techniques and explore just what could be done.” Likewise, water, heating, and ventilation systems in Finland were temporarily frozen by a series of cyber- attacks. Across the Atlantic, in the US, a ransomware infection forced a Michigan utility company to pay $25,000 to regain access to its critical accounting and e-mail servers.

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