Technology is crucial to how well we live our lives today. Think about times when there are power blackouts. Can you imagine your discomfort as you trudge on the next few hours devoid of power and all the modern conveniences you have grown accustomed to? It is interesting to note, though, that as we become highly dependent on these technologies we also gradually realize how fragile they are compared to digital crimes committed today. We can easily go powerless for days on end if cyber criminals manage to click on the right button and mess up an entire power grid’s operation.
And ironically, it isn’t just something we have randomly thought about but already a reality that has already happened in certain parts of the globe. In Europe, for instance, Ireland’s power grid was overtaken by cyber criminals. If it happened to them, it can also easily happen to any place here on earth, even in the United States. Cyber criminals manage to take down the impressive Irish engineering and infrastructure safety precautions, so it won’t be difficult for these hackers to do it again to a different power grid in a far away country and temporarily cripple an entire nation.
Two weeks ago it was cyberattacks on the Irish power grid. Last month it was a digital assault on U.S. energy companies, including a nuclear power plant. Back in December a Russian hack of a Vermont utility was all over the news. From the media buzz, one might conclude that power grid infrastructure is teetering on the brink of a hacker-induced meltdown.
The real story is more nuanced, however. Scientific American spoke with grid cybersecurity expert Robert M. Lee, CEO of industrial cybersecurity firm Dragos, Inc., to sort out fact from hype. Dragos, which aims to protect critical infrastructure from cyberattacks, recently raised $10 million from investors to further its mission. Before he founded the company, Lee worked for the U.S. government analyzing and defending against cyberattacks on infrastructure. For a portion of his military career, he also worked on the government’s offensive front. His work has given him a front-row view on both sides of infrastructure cybersecurity.
While people working on the grid take pride in the safety and reliability of these structures given that they can manage to withstand and survive even the most inclement of weathers, the threat actually involves the computer technology that runs these infrastructures and the way it connects everything. It will scare you, actually, and it’s the reason why these genius hackers pull off stunts like this without a sweat.
After it came to light this summer that hackers had infiltrated the computer networks of two U.S. power companies – at a time the country was still reeling from Russian cyberattacks aimed at influencing the 2016 election – the possibility of hackers taking down the U.S. power grid and sending the nation into chaos suddenly seemed a very real possibility.
The companies pledged there was no danger. Senators called hearings and wrote letters to the White House demanding to know what it was doing about it.
But to the teams of cybersecurity analysts charged with protecting the world’s industries from a rapidly evolving deluge of malware, viruses and other tools of the hacker trade, it was just the latest in an escalating cyberwar against power grids and other critical infrastructure around the globe.
Hackers are increasingly becoming more interested in attacking power grids because if they do so, they’ll be able to (somehow) make the world stop even just for a while and relish in the moment when they are able to disrupt the world order and show the world how powerful they have become. It’s surprising how breaking into a computer system can make everything stop in an instant.
And considering that we live in a digital world, human life will be in total chaos and be put at a standstill with the power out indefinitely. Everything that relies on electricity to work will stop and that is basically everything there is in the world right now. Let these previous instances serve as both as a warning and lesson to everyone not to take cyber security lightly because a lot is at stake with the data we have on the web and everything else that is connected to it.