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Fears of cyber-attack on energy sector
September 17, 2017, 3:09 pm

Cyber-attacks that allow hackers to take-over, or jeopardize a country’s energy utilities are nightmare scenarios for authorities. Chances of such events occurring are not far-fetched was demonstrated when the hacker group known as ‘Dragonfly’ launched a wave of sophisticated online attacks at energy sectors in Europe and North America in December 2015.

Online security provider Symantec reported that it found strong indications that Dragonfly, which had launched similar campaigns from 2011 to 2014, was behind the attacks on the energy sectors in the United States, Switzerland and Turkey. The attackers employed a number of methods to infect systems, including malicious emails, watering hole attacks and Trojan software, to break into energy sector computers. 

Security researchers have yet to determine the motives behind the energy sector attacks. "We are not seeing any motivation in regards to monetary, extortion or economic espionage," said Symantec. But the company warned that although the impact of the attacks had been minimal, that did not mitigate the need for concern. “This could have been an attempt to gain information about these systems in preparation of future attacks," the security firm noted.

Symantec added that “the sophistication of the attack, the targets of the attack, the gathering of information indicates there's a bigger play here that's more typical of a nation-state than a criminal organization".

Since discovering the latest activity, Symantec has briefed more than 100 energy sector and government organizations in the United States and Europe and made recommendations to them about coping with the attacks.

Attacks on industrial control systems have been increasing in recent times, according to a new report from IBM Security. There were 2,788 attacks in 2016, up from 640 attacks in 2013, for instance. That trend appears to be continuing this year. Through July, IBM already had reported 2,522 attacks.

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