Ukraine power grid cyberattack illuminates risk to critical infrastructure

It’s no surprise the cyberattack on Ukraine’s power grid dominated industrial control system (ICS) cybersecurity news in January. Following the news of the power outages and subsequent discovery of malware and other signs of a purposeful network intrusion, cybersecurity experts, DHS and others have revealed alarming instances of cyberattacks, increasing vulnerabilities and lack of adequate cyberdefenses at industrial and nuclear sites, dams and other critical infrastructure. Perhaps the Ukraine attack is the wake up call the industry needs to escalate its investment in cybersecurity protections, such as Unidirectional Security Gateways. In the meantime, learn more in our roundup of these stories below.

Confirmation of a Coordinated Attack on the Ukrainian Power Grid (SANS, Jan. 9, 2016)

With all security eyes on the Ukraine’s Prykarpattyaoblenergo utility, SANS ICS concluded hackers likely caused the outage by remotely switching breakers, after installing malware that prevented technicians from detecting the intrusion. The key takeaway is that malware may have enabled the attack, but it was hackers’ remote access to critical operational networks that resulted in the outage.

U.S. official sees more cyber attacks on industrial control systems (Reuters, Jan. 13, 2016)

While presenting at the S4x16 conference in Miami, Marty Edwards, head of the DHS ICS-CERT, cited increased Internet connectivity and associated vulnerabilities as the main reason behind the rise in cyberattacks on ICS networks. Others aren’t convinced, believing the recent Ukraine power grid attack has prompted authorities to look for signs of intrusion that may not necessarily be intentionally harmful events. From our perspective, any external intrusion – or even attempted intrusion – of ICSs is potentially harmful and should be taken seriously. Further, there is no doubt whatsoever that connecting critical infrastructure directly to the Internet or indirectly to Internet-accessible networks creates significant vulnerabilities.

Nuclear Facilities in 20 Countries May Be Easy Targets for Cyberattacks (New York Times, Jan. 14, 2016)

According to a distressing report by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, 20 nations have no apparent government regulations requiring minimal protection of nuclear power plants or atomic stockpiles against cyberattacks. The U.S. and many other countries have adopted strong security postures including physical security measures, removable device controls, and Unidirectional Security Gateways. This is standard practice in many jurisdictions and is something that should become standard worldwide for nuclear facilities.

Cybersecurity:IT vs. OT, and the Pursuit of Best Practices (Electricity Policy, January 2016)

In this article, industry experts, Paul Feldman, director of Midcontinent ISO, and Dan Hill, board member for the New York ISO, explore the new threats to our power systems. They point out that cybercriminal sophistication has outpaced the resulting regulations and urge the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) to establish industry regulations that reflect the current threat landscape. Hill and Feldman point out that adequate, modern ICS security is very different from doing the minimum to be in compliance and recommend the use of unidirectional security gateways to eliminate the threat of remote-control and other network attacks from business networks and from the Internet.

NSA Hacking Chief: Internet of Things Security Keeps Me Up at Night (MIT Technology Review, Jan. 28, 2016)

Rob Joyce, chief of the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations unit, shook up the SCADA security community when he stated, “SCADA security is something that keeps me up at night.” Referring to the thousands of ICSs, such as power plants and other critical infrastructure, that are connected to the Internet without proper protections in place, Joyce singled out heating and cooling systems as examples that nation-state hackers can use to infiltrate control systems. He knows this to be true since these same systems are used as points of ingress by his own team. As alarming as this seems, it’s the reality we face as more and more industrial control systems are connected to the Internet.

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