Now here is some news that concerns me deeply. I knew it was bad, but I did not know it was this bad.
Rebecca Smith from the Wall Street Journal reported that “Hackers working for Russia claimed “hundreds of victims” last year in a giant and long-running campaign that put them inside the control rooms of U.S. electric utilities where they could have caused blackouts, federal officials said. They said the campaign likely is continuing.
“The Russian hackers, who worked for a shadowy state-sponsored group previously identified as Dragonfly or Energetic Bear, broke into supposedly secure, “air-gapped” or isolated networks owned by utilities with relative ease by first penetrating the networks of key vendors who had trusted relationships with the power companies, said officials at the Department of Homeland Security.
“They got to the point where they could have thrown switches” and disrupted power flows, said Jonathan Homer, chief of industrial-control-system analysis for DHS.
DHS has been warning utility executives with security clearances about the Russian group’s threat to critical infrastructure since 2014. But the briefing on Monday was the first time that DHS has given out information in an unclassified setting with as much detail. It continues to withhold the names of victims but now says there were hundreds of victims, not a few dozen as had been said previously.
It also said some companies still may not know they have been compromised, because the attacks used credentials of actual employees to get inside utility networks, potentially making the intrusions more difficult to detect.
Experts have been warning about the Russian threat for some time.
“They’ve been intruding into our networks and are positioning themselves for a limited or widespread attack,” said Michael Carpenter, former deputy assistant secretary of defense, who now is a senior director at the Penn Biden Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “They are waging a covert war on the West.”
Russia has denied targeting critical infrastructure.
Mr. Homer said the cyberattack, which surfaced in the U.S. in the spring of 2016 and continued throughout 2017, exploited relationships that utilities have with vendors who have special access to update software, run diagnostics on equipment and perform other services that are needed to keep millions of pieces of gear in working order.
The attackers began by using conventional tools—spear-phishing emails and watering-hole attacks, which trick victims into entering their passwords on spoofed websites—to compromise the corporate networks of suppliers, many of whom were smaller companies without big budgets for cybersecurity.
Once inside the vendor networks, they pivoted to their real focus: the utilities. It was a relatively easy process, in many cases, for them to steal credentials from vendors and gain direct access to utility networks. DHS is conducting the briefings—four are planned—hoping for more industry cooperation.
If you want to keep your lights on…
I strongly suggest that your Disaster Recovery Team finds out which utility is supplying your power, and insist that they step their employees through new-school security awareness training and tell their vendors to do the same. You know who to send them to.