A new report has warned that privately owned parts of the US electricity grid are in imminent danger of cyber attacks.

The Department of Energy’s second Quadrennial Energy Review said advancements in technology had led to a more dynamic and efficient electricity system and had increasingly integrated existing power networks, but this integration now required improved security.

The report said, “As transmission and distribution system design and operations become more data intensive, complex and interconnected, the demand for visibility across the continuum of electricity delivery has expanded.

“The current cybersecurity landscape is characterised by rapidly evolving threats and vulnerabilities, juxtaposed against the slower-moving deployment of defence measures.”

According to the review, a successful attack could cause a power outage and undermine vital defence infrastructure, damage the economy, and risk lives.

The report said a December 2015 cyber attack on the Ukrainian electricity grid had to-date been the most sophisticated cyber attack on a power system.

In Ukraine, 225,000 people were left without power for up to six hours when circuit breakers in six facilities were remotely manipulated in a series of coordinated attacks.

The attacks disconnected seven substations, caused equipment malfunctions, and overwhelmed the call center with a denial-of-service attacks to stop people reporting outages.

Last month, another suspected cyber attack on a power substation in northern Ukraine caused a blackout impacting more than 100,000 Ukrainians.

The report said, “Typical cybersecurity events impacting the grid have been mainly limited to gaining access to networks through phishing emails or infecting flash drives with the hope that they will be connected to a network.”

However, the report said the hacking of utility systems, such as in the Ukraine attacks, demonstrated these events were not simply information theft.

In Australia, utilities are also under threat, with an Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) report showing the energy industry is the most targeted private sector, receiving 18 per cent of cyber attacks.

The federal government has responded to the danger by releasing a plan, Australia’s Cyber Security Strategy, that aims to improve Australia’s defences against threats and promote prosperity and growth.

Is your network prepared for the threat of cyber crime?

Our event, Secure Utilities, being held at the Rendezvous Hotel in Melbourne on 23 March 2017, will ensure you’re up to date with the latest thinking and technology to keep your utility’s assets and data safe.

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