Hackers Now Able To Shut Down Electricity Supply

The Symantec report, published on Wednesday revealed a new campaign of attacks by a hacker group calling themselves Dragonfly 2.0, which claims it targeted dozens of energy companies in the spring and summer of this year. In more than 20 cases, Symantec reports the group gained access to the target companies’ networks and were able to override. A handful of US power firms and at least one company in Turkey – none of which Symantec is prepared to name (note: correctly, it would be unethical to do so,) – their forensic analysis found that Dragonfly 2.0 had gained what they call operational access: control of the systems and networks that power company engineers use to send control to equipment like circuit breakers, giving them the ability to stop the flow of electricity into US homes and businesses.

“There’s a difference between being a step away from conducting sabotage and actually being in a position to conduct sabotage … being able to flip the switch on power generation,” says Symantec security analyst Eric Chien. “We’re now talking about on-the-ground technical evidence this could happen in the US, and there’s nothing left standing in the way except the motivation of some actor out in the world.”

Never before has there been evidence that hackers have that level of control of American power company systems, Chien notes. The only comparable situations, he says, have been the repeated hacker attacks on the Ukrainian grid that twice caused power outages in the country in late 2015 and 2016, the first known hacker-induced blackouts.

Security consultants including FireEye and Dragos have credited those Ukrainian attacks on a hacker group known as Sandworm, believed to be based in Russia. But Symantec stopped short of blaming the more recent attacks on any country or even trying to explain the hackers’ motives. No evidence directly connects the Ukraine attacks to the Dragonfly 2.0 campaign or the string of hacker intrusions at US power companies – including a Kansas nuclear facility – known as Palmetto Fusion, which unnamed officials revealed in July and later tied to Russia.

However the timing and descriptions of the Palmetto Fusion hacking campaigns match up with Symantec’s Dragonfly findings. “It’s highly unlikely this is just coincidental,” Chien says, adding that while the Palmetto Fusion intrusions included a breach of a nuclear power plant, the most serious DragonFly intrusions Symantec tracked penetrated only non-nuclear energy companies, which have less strict separations of their internet-connected IT networks and operational controls.

The first question I would want answered is, if they have that sort of control, why not exercise it?  Why no blackouts or service interruptions in the U.S.?

Hacking Sony or another private business is one thing.  Hacking a nation’s electrical infrastructure is many orders of magnitude more serious.  

If a sovereign nation were behind such an event, it would be tantamount to a declaration of war.  Unless the attacking nation was supremely confident that the hack couldn’t be traced back to it, the nation would be unlikely to attempt it.

Causing a blackout in a major urban area would almost certainly result in many deaths.  We know this from previous blackouts in New York City, where the 2003 power outage is estimated to have resulted in 100 deaths.  This would be intolerable, and if the attack could be traced back to Russia, China, Iran or North Korea it would result in retaliation by the U.S.  But with certain elements in Washington apparently determined to find and excuse to provoke conflict with the eastern bloc, the possibility of false flag operations cannot be ruled out.
 

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