Recent news that hackers have been targeting our country’s nuclear facilities since May make for attention-grabbing headlines but while the story is concerning, it certainly isn’t surprising. Since the joint U.S. - Israeli designed Stuxnet attack became front page news back in 2010, we’ve all known nation states (including our own) are hard at work creating and implementing cyberattacks that cause widespread harm. Thankfully in this new barrage of attacks on our critical infrastructure, our energy facilities were well prepared.
In this instance, hackers penetrated the computer networks of companies that operate nuclear power stations and other energy facilities and manufacturing plants in the U.S. The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI issued a joint report last week that issued an urgent amber warning. There is no indication the hackers were able to jump from the computer networks to the facilities’ control systems however, which is very good news.
Keeping the lights on
Our electrical grid might be the single most important piece of technology we need to protect – if you think about it, virtually every single facet of our lives today is entirely reliant on our ability to provide uninterrupted electric power. Our entire world would quickly grind to a halt without power. We should appreciate these targeted attempts by advanced attackers on our power stations as the new reality of wide scale interconnectivity and just how far the Internet has reached in the past couple of decades.
Thankfully, it appears that the targets in question have taken significant steps to isolate their ICS/SCADA environments from their general computing infrastructure, which makes a remote attack on the stations themselves significantly more difficult for even a well-funded attacker.
But like many attacks before it, it seems that attackers focus their initial attacks on people instead of machines. The human factor in cybersecurity is still of critical importance, and if there is one lesson to be learned here, it’s simply that an incident or exploit can happen to anyone, at any time. A mindless click on a malicious link on a vulnerable machine, opening a document with exploit code… it only takes a second to give an attacker an opening.
Loose clicks sink ships
When considering the world of ICS/SCADA, and our physical infrastructure, the old phrase Loose clicks sink ships isn’t hyperbole. But his latest news doesn’t faze me though; we have some incredibly brilliant security people on our side who are keeping the lights on and the fridges cold.