Tuesday, December 9, 2014

November news roundup: Turbulent times for the U.S. power grid

The vulnerability of U.S. critical infrastructure to a state-sponsored attack was confirmed this past month, as the director of the NSA, Michael Rogers, reported that China has the capability to cause damage to the nation’s power grid. Rogers’ concern held a lot of weight, since it came after CERT’s discovery that in the fiscal year of 2014, hackers targeted the U.S. power grid up to 79 times. Similar to Rogers’ warning about China, CERT believes reconnaissance was the motivation for these attacks, where hackers plant malware within industrial control systems in order to gather information for more sophisticated attacks later. The worry for CERT and the NSA lies in what these hackers are capable of, underscoring the need for utilities to deploy stronger-than-firewall cybersecurity alternatives to ensure the safety and reliability of critical control system networks. Read about these developing stories and more in this month’s news roundup:
In arguably the month’s biggest news story, the director of the NSA and head of U.S. Cyber Command, Admiral Michael Rogers, publicly confirmed that China and “one or two other countries” have the capabilities to launch a cyberattack that would effectively shut down the United States electric grid. Rogers claimed that U.S. adversaries are already performing reconnaissance operations throughout U.S. critical infrastructure, making an attack that would harm these pre-infected industrial control systems a real possibility. Because most of these cyberthreats are likely state- and government-sponsored, Rogers says that the next step in preparation will be determining how to classify an act of war.
The latest security vulnerability to critical infrastructure comes in the form of three defects that were discovered within products manufactured by Advantech, an industrial technology developer. The three vulnerabilities include an OS command injection, a stack-based buffer overflow and a buffer overflow. Advantech has indicated that it will not fix two of the vulnerabilities. A fix has been issued for the third, but only in the latest release of Advantech software, and the fix does not work if an earlier installation is upgraded to the latest release without first erasing the device. This report highlights the continued problem of a “soft interior” in most control system networks, a problem that is often addressed with strong network cyber and physical perimeter protections.
Throughout the 2014 fiscal year, U.S. energy companies were the targets of 79 hacking incidents, reports CERT. Although this represents an overall decrease from last year’s number of 145, the fact remains that the grid is constantly under the threat of an attack. These hacks were not aimed at immediately disrupting or taking over operation systems, but there is concern that this malware gives the attackers  a backdoor to grid systems where they could insert harmful programs in the future.”
The Department of Homeland Security and ICS-CERT identified the Russian Trojan horse, BlackEnergy, as a threat to U.S. critical infrastructure. BlackEnergy was initially discovered within software existent amongst oil and gas pipelines, water systems and power grids, covering the spectrum of most U.S. critical industries. Consisting of the same strain of malware developed by the Russian cyberespionage group, Sandworm, investigators are almost certain that BlackEnergy can be traced back to the same group.
Check out our October news roundup for even more industrial security news.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.