It’s a scary story reminiscent of the cold war era that sounds like it comes right out of a science fiction novel: Spies linked to Russia and China penetrated the U.S. electrical grid.
The cyberspies have left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system, according a report Wednesday on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. The intruders haven’t sought to damage the power grid or other key infrastructure, but officials warned they could try during a crisis or war, according to the Journal report.
Unfortunately this isn’t science fiction or Hollywood– it is real, The publication of this story will hopefully focus attention on the urgency and importance of strong cybersecurity to protect all of our critical infrastructures. We do not have time to debate this any longer. Electricity can be considered the most critical of our critical infrastructure because everything runs on electricity.
I have been tracking attacks on our critical infrastructure for more than a decade. These systems were designed for reliability and availability, and security was not a priority by culture, since many of the intricate electronic systems that run our physical infrastructure were never connected to IP-based systems and the brave new world of vulnerability that IP systems bring.
Critical infrastructures such as energy, telecommunications, finance and water have become more vulnerable to attack because there has long been a focus on expansion, with security added later and literally retrofitted in minimum capacity. We have used IP connectivity to expand availability, reliability, efficiency and even quality through the use of advanced service delivery and remote global monitoring. However, with that connectivity to comes the world of cyber vulnerability and the need for cybersecurity.
As an example, the organizations that run these systems have added means for remote management and monitoring that are now among the security weaknesses.
Breaches in our critical infrastructure have happened several times in the past, intentionally and unintentionally. As part of an experiment to prove the physical consequences of cybercrime, the Department of Homeland Security demonstrated how it could remotely destroy a diesel generator in October 2007.
Unintentionally, a nuclear plant in Ohio has shut down after a contractor logged in with a laptop that had malicious code on it.
These events can be prevented. The security community has created technology that covers everything from the systems, the network and the cloud. Wearing my McAfee hat, this is powered by our unmatched global threat intelligence (imagine protecting every system based on events seen at all systems across the world) to provide a higher level of protection to prevent these types of attacks and help keep the lights on across the U.S. and the world.