Monday, December 21, 2015

U.S. Electrical Grid Wide Open To Cyberattack

by JASmius

Er, "dry" run for something bigger?  I'd bet on it:

Iranian hackers breached the control system of a small dam near New York City in 2013, worrying federal officials about the security of the nation's infrastructure, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The intrusion took place at the Bowman Avenue Dam in Rye, New York, a flood control facility about five miles from Long Island Sound — and the hackers got into the system through a cellular modem, the Journal reports, citing former and current U.S. officials.

"The 2013 dam hack highlighted another challenge for America's digital defenses: the fog of cyber war," the Journal reports, adding U.S. officials at first weren't able to determine where the hackers had infiltrated, thinking it had been an incident in Oregon.

Oregon and Iran are approximately 6,800 miles apart, just for the record.  Not exactly a confidence builder, is it?

But Bowman Avenue Dam is just the tip of the iceberg:

[T]he Journal reports the hack raised concerns about the more than 57,000 industrial control systems — more than any other country — that are largely unprotected on the Internet.

According to researchers at Shodan, a search engine that catalogs each machine online, the systems range from office air-conditioning units to major pipelines and electrical-control systems.

"Everything is being integrated, which is great, but it's not very secure," Cesar Cerrudo, an Argentine researcher and chief technology officer at IOActive Labs, a security-consulting firm, tells the Journal. [emphases added]

For all that we hear from the Left about our supposedly "crumbling" infrastructure, the fact is that we have a whole lot of it, most if not all of it is very modern, and most, if not all, of it is electronically controlled in networked fashion.  And if it's cybernetically undefended....the possibilities are sobering, and practically endless: hospitals, major hydroelectric dams, air traffic control sysstems, nuclear power plants, the aforequoted oil and natural gas pipelines.  Hack into their control systems, flip the right metaphorical switch, and a whole town goes up in flames, or we get an American Chernobyl that serves the same purpose as a radiological "dirty bomb" attack, or airliners start colliding and falling out of the sky by the dozens or hundreds.  That's some heady stuff if one is clickety-clacking away at a terminal in Raqqa or Mosul or Sirte.

But not as heady as knocking down the U.S. domestic electrical grid:

Security researcher Brian Wallace was on the trail of hackers who had snatched a California university's housing files when he stumbled into a larger nightmare: Cyberattackers had opened a pathway into the networks running the United States power grid.

Digital clues pointed to Iranian hackers. And Wallace found that they had already taken passwords, as well as engineering drawings of dozens of power plants, at least one with the title "Mission Critical." The drawings were so detailed that experts say skilled attackers could have used them, along with other tools and malicious code, to knock out electricity flowing to millions of homes.

Wallace was astonished. But this breach, the Associated Press has found, was not unique.

About a dozen times in the last decade, sophisticated foreign hackers have gained enough remote access to control the operations networks that keep the lights on, according to top experts who spoke only on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter....

These intrusions have not caused the kind of cascading blackouts that are feared by the intelligence community.


But so many attackers have stowed away in the largely investor-owned systems that run the U.S. electric grid that experts say they likely have the capability to strike at will.

And that's what worries Wallace and other cybersecurity experts most.

"If the geopolitical situation changes and Iran wants to target these facilities, if they have this kind of information it will make it a lot easier," said Robert M. Lee, a former U.S. Air Force cyberwarfare operations officer. "It will also help them stay quiet and stealthy inside." [emphases added]

And, of course, it isn't just the mullahs trying to get the cyber-drop on us; we're under more or less constant cyberattack from the Russians, ChiComms, and North Koreans as well.  Even the Islamic State is getting in on the act.  But whereas the latter would melt down Three Mile Island for real this time just because, the other state actors would save their penetration of our networked infrastructure control systems, civilian and military, in logic-bomb fashion, for when they needed it as part of a coordinated attack on the U.S.  All they'd have to do, in essence, is push a keyboard button, like General Brewster did in Terminator III: Rise Of The Machines, activate the equivalent of Skynet, and the cascade failure would begin.  It's also not unlike the premise of the Cylon attack in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica serious last decade; a Cylon infiltrator gains access to Colonial defense networks, hacks them and implants a virus or malware that activates at the programmed time to take them all down as part of the all-out attack, leaving the humans defenseless.  In our case, it would almost produce the same effect as an EMP attack if enemy penetration of our systems was total.  And the truth is, we are so far behind the curve on this threat that we have no idea of how penetrated we are, what enemies have planted, or which enemies might have done so.

As serious and dangerous as Barack Obama comprehensive dismantling of the U.S. military is, this is a front on which it is not seemingly possible for us to disarm, because we've never been armed to begin with.  Our enemies have such a drop on us by now that it almost makes one wonder what they're waiting for - and just as ominously certain that we're going to find out in the not too distant future.

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