With the ongoing list of companies and organizations falling victim to breaches in their data systems, many are asking if the practice of robbing and stealing private information will ever come under control. The number of systems and people the breaches affect is staggering. The once favored target of hackers, credit card numbers and passwords is now being joined by personal medical information and everything else that comes along with it. The cybercriminals appear to be taking a shotgun approach, breaking into any system that is discovered to be vulnerable to their misdirected talents.
Company officials and cybercrime busters are showing signs of fatigue as they struggle to prevent the rampant, unwanted intrusions and theft. The fact that many of the largest attacks are originating from countries like Russia and China serves only to ratchet-up the hand ringing. If our non-allies like China and Russia are at the bottom of much of the illegal activity, and the measured mayhem it causes, it begs the question as to their motives. Are these attacks against softer targets a dress rehearsal for something much larger and more disruptive to come?
The electrical utilities industry is taking notice of the increased rate of intrusions across other industries and has begun to ramp up their security efforts to prevent an interruption to the country’s electrical grid. A federal analysis, reported earlier this year, indicated that an attack on just nine of the country’s 55,000 electrical substations would result in a coast to coast disruption in electrical services. While the cybertheft and misuse of personal credit card and medical information can cause significant economic and personal strife, the damage pales in comparison to the wholesale disruption of the countrywide distribution of gas and electric.
“The industry is paying attention and actively seeking ways to bolster security practices to limit power system vulnerability,” says an annual report from the consulting, construction and engineering firm Black & Veatch titled “2014 Strategic Directions: U.S. Electric Industry.” “We are seeing an industry that is actively moving forward with the deployment of comprehensive asset protection plans following several high-profile cyber and physical threat events.”
But, among those who were surveyed for the report, only 32 percent of electric utilities had integrated security systems with the “proper segmentation, monitoring and redundancies” needed for cyberthreat protection. In response, federal industry regulators have instituted updated standards for the industry.
Many cybersecurity experts are now focusing additional attention to developing plans to respond to the calamity that would surely accompany a successful attack to our country’s utility infrastructure in addition to their intensified prevention efforts.
As the only superpower in the world, we must come to a heightened realization that the greatest and most impactful threats from our enemies may not come by way of bombs, bullets and missiles, but from our enemies’ ability to simply turn out our lights at will.