Director of NSA (National Security Agency) Michael Rogers recently warned that the US Power Grid is vulnerable to Chinese cyber attacks that could shut off the nation’s industrial facilities, according to Fox News.
Rogers told a congress panel that a software identified in China could significantly damage America’s economic future by interfering with critical infrastructure and power company systems.
He informed the House Intelligence Committee about the malware in the following statement:
“It enables you to shut down very segmented, very tailored parts of our infrastructure that forestall the ability to provide that service to us as citizens.”
“It is only a matter of the when, not the if, that we are going to see something traumatic,” added Rogers.
The NSA chief went on to say that these operations involve different types of malware in preparation for a massive attack that could disable the US industrial facilities, according to the CNN. Chinese hackers are attempting to steal data on how the systems are configured, going down to engineering detail level so that they can see where the vulnerabilities are and how they are created.
“We’re seeing multiple nation-states invest in those kinds of capabilities,” he said.
The revelation comes a month later after the White House reported its computer network suffered a breach.
Power Grids are interconnected so they are vulnerable to hack failures. When nearby grids take a hit of a failed system, they are overloaded and as a result fail to function in a chain reaction. These attacks, according to Rogers, are one of the coming trends where foreign hackers exploit zero-day vulnerabilities in the US cyber system.
Zero-day vulnerabilities are software loopholes unknown the vendor. Hackers usually exploit these loopholes before they are identified and a patch is released. They are being used as a powerful cyber espionage attack method against countries that are connected to the internet.
Cyber warfare is another thing to worry about as hackers can place a backdoor to access the Power Grid network and critical infrastructure at a later date. Exploits for zero day vulnerabilities and cyber warfare also exist in the grey cyber crime market.
While the FBI, NSA, the White House, etc. have been working on sprucing up their cyber defenses, second-and-third level targets remain vulnerable due to lack of measures and budget spent to secure their networks and critical systems. It’s likely that these targets along with state and local government agencies are yet to take advanced measures to harden server security.
A lot needs to be done since the Power Grid going down would have multiple consequences, and a massive attack could also take down fire services, the DMV, local police, schools and post offices.
Protecting the Power Grid
The problem is becoming pervasive, and the adversaries are continuously innovating. To counter the threat, private groups and government must work in collaboration.
DHS (The Department of Homeland Security) has the responsibility for cyber threat prevention of US critical infrastructure, but the agency mostly relies on the industry to protect itself.
Therefore, transmission and utility firms only take measures in compliance with NER minimal standards. These companies could improve their security by manifold by leveraging solutions like Massive’s Strixus that provide real-time actionable intelligence. Such solutions allow for counter measures and proactive action to protect the digital infrastructure.
Another measure can be taken by companies connected to the Power Grid. They could create a new governing body to deflect threats to the gird. This body should work with local and state governments to create metrics by which they evaluate investments in cybersecurity and threat mitigation modalities to attract investment from the federal government.