Are Power Utilities Prepared for Cyber Attacks?

Energy utilities tend to be distributed, and their operations are not always connected to the Smart Grid, or Internet of Things. However, power supply companies have increasingly automated their systems and adopted computer software programs that play a role in power generation and/or distribution, which makes them more vulnerable to cyber threats. Cyber attacks come in many forms, such as malware, ransomware or distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, and the technology to launch such attacks is relatively easy and inexpensive to launch, whether by cybercriminals or terrorists.

Accenture recently surveyed 100 utility executives from over 20 countries, and found that 57% of them are concerned that a cyber attack could interrupt the supply of electric power. Almost two-thirds (63%) of respondents said they believe their country faces at least a moderate risk of electricity supply interruption from a cyber attack on electric distribution grids in the next five years. The Accenture report indicates that only 39% of respondents claim they “maintain resilience readiness.” If so, that means that 61% are not as cyber resilient as they should be, in the face of growing and sophisticated cyber threats.

Cyber attacks against national infrastructure have the potential to inflict significant, real-life disruption to business and economy. An attack on the electricity grid would have ripple effects on critical services such as health and transportation. Electricity grid attacks have already happened twice in Ukraine, when parts of that country’s energy grid were hacked in 2015 and 2016. And, it’s possible that hackers could infiltrate the computer operations of a hydroelectric dam. Some local leaders in New York State speculate that when Iranian hackers targeted the computer controls of a small dam in Rye Brook, NY in 2013, the attack was a dry run for a potential attack on some large hydroelectric dam.

Will utility companies respond proactively to cyber threats? Some will soon be financially and legally motivated to do so. For example, in the United Kingdom (UK), critical infrastructure organizations, which includes utilities, could be liable for fines of up to £17m, or four percent of global turnover, under the UK government’s proposals to implement the EU’s Network and Information Systems (NIS) directive, as of May 2018.

To keep up with the growing complexity and organization of well-equipped and well-funded threat actors, it’s essential that critical infrastructure organizations, including energy and utilities, maintain comprehensive visibility across their networks to instantly and automatically detect and block any potential cyber attacks, including DDoS attacks, as they arise. Proactive DDoS protection is a critical element in proper cyber security protection against loss of service and data breach activity. An advanced security solution is necessary because this level of protection cannot be achieved with traditional Internet gateway security solutions such as firewalls, IPS and the like.

Corero has been a leader in modern DDoS protection solutions for over a decade, to learn how you can protect your company, contact us.

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