Security Market Segment LS
Thursday, 16 January 2014 00:51

Energy sector a growing target for cyberattacks

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There’s a rising tide of cyber attacks on the energy sector, with a warning from a global security company that the growing adoption of smart grids, smart meters and the “Internet of Things,” will likely lead to even greater risks and challenges for energy firms this year.

In a whitepaper just released by Symantec, the global security firm examines the rising trend of attempted attacks against the energy sector, noting that in the first half of 2013, the energy sector was the fifth most targeted sector worldwide, experiencing 7.6% of all cyberattacks.

In fact, Symantec that from July 2012 to June 2013, it observed an average of nine attacks per day against the energy sector.

“Disturbingly, reports of attempted attacks against the companies and industries that supply it (the energy sector) are increasing every year,” Symantec notes.

“So, it’s not surprising that in May 2013, the US Department of Homeland Security warned of a rising tide of attacks aimed at sabotaging processes at energy companies. At Symantec, our researchers are finding that traditional energy utility companies are particularly concerned about scenarios created by the likes of Stuxnet or Disttrack/Shamoon which can sabotage industrial facilities.

“We are also learning that aggressors who target the energy sector also try to steal intellectual property on new technology, like wind or solar power generators or gas field exploration charts. While data theft incidents may not pose an immediate and catastrophic threat to a company, they can create a longer term strategic threat. Information stolen could be used in the future to perform more disruptive actions, warns Symantec.

Symantec notes in a blog on its website by threat researcher Candid Wueeston that its research has found that modern energy systems are becoming more complex, and that there are supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) or industrial control systems (ICS) that sit outside of traditional security walls.

“And as smart grid technology continues to gain momentum, more new energy systems will be connected to the Internet of Things, which opens up new security vulnerabilities related to having countless connected devices,” Wueeston writes.

Wueeston goes on to say: “In addition to this, many countries have started to open the energy market and add smaller contributors to the electric power grid, such as private water power plants, wind turbines or solar collectors.

“While these smaller sites make up only a small portion of the grid, the decentralized power input feeds can be a challenge to manage with limited IT resources and need to be carefully monitored to avoid small outages that could create a domino effect throughout the larger grid.

“We see the need for a collaborative approach combining IT and industrial component security to protect the industry’s information. To partner in this effort, Symantec has conducted an in-depth study into attacks focused on the energy sector that took place in the past 12 months. This research presents the facts and figures, and covers the methods, motivations, and history of these attacks.”


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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired and is a "volunteer" writer for iTWire. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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