The United States actually did see its first grid-related cyberattack on home turf this year. According to E&E News, the incident only lasted for 5 minutes, and only caused minimal “blind spots” for the North American Reliability Corporation. But with it came an uneasy, unprecedented feeling that things might escalate or eventually see the same heights as Sandworm down the road. Since then there has been more urgency for utilities and grid operators to equip all systems with more than just simple firewalls.
In other news, America recently upped the ante on boring into the Russian grid as a warning to not manipulate the electrical grid here. Although more than likely just a power move, if the White House has truly planted malicious code inside of the Russian grid to surveil the networks and possibly manipulate it from afar, who’s to say that they don’t follow suit. With a more digital, connected world comes the opportunity for dominoes to fall.
Triton Malware and Other Dangers Like it
For a direct threat to electrical grids in the U.S., look no further than Triton – which is a family of malware that was solely built to disrupt and manipulate industrial control systems. Those industrial control systems relate to the various systems and control points for industrial processes in manufacturing, or more relevant to this subject, the energy industry. What hackers can accomplish with Triton malware, and malicious programs like it, is a shutdown of all safety sensors and failsafes, which is exactly what happened in Iran with Stuxnet.
Stuxnet, a computer worm, has been dubbed the first digital weapon. Back in 2010 when it was used on an Iranian nuclear facility, it caused quite a stir when it utilized by the U.S. and Israeli powers to cause a nuclear uranium centrifuge to spin fast enough to break. Stuxnet had a double function to also relay back to security systems that everything was fine, when clearly everything was not fine.
This sort of digital attack could be utilized against us and our own industrial control systems: grids, factories, plants, and other valuable infrastructure could be attacked. It’s up to industrial systems to be fortified well enough to minimize any ‘back doors’ or potential for manipulation.
A group of hackers named Xenotime has already started to test out the vulnerabilities of the grid system by doing more than 20 scans for vulnerabilities, but American cybersecurity experts believe that they’re a long time away from posing even a little threat. But the potential is always there, and they have started knocking on the door – testing the waters so to speak on various power grids.