Mitigating the Risk of Cyberattacks to Energy Systems

18 November 2023

Technology vendors supplying critical infrastructure face substantial risks: they stand as prime targets for cyberattacks, being prominent actors in the energy supply chain. The energy sector is particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks as critical infrastructures are essential for the daily functioning of society. How to mitigate the risk with a new way of sharing data?

What could happen if the energy sector gets attacked?

Disruption to operations not only impedes access to vital data but also jeopardizes the execution of critical functions. This fact emphasizes the necessity for fortified defenses. The main problem arises due to ransomware attacks when an interruption can lead to service outages, which can even lead to safety hazards in the energy sector when safety-related systems are compromised. Moreover, these attacks can also make data inaccessible – data that might be necessary for managing and controlling essential services.

Perpetrators often demand payment to restore access to systems – in this case, the victims can either pay the ransom or pay for the costs related to system recovery. An attack can have region-wide implications for transportation or electricity supply, affecting the functioning of our modern society. This is particularly true when control systems are under threat.

Another aspect of the problem is that we use an intricate web of interconnected systems today, such as SCADA networks. In this environment, energy equipment vendors become extremely vulnerable. A breach in one component has the potential to affect the entire energy sector.

Moreover, the looming threat of Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) adds another layer of complexity. These sophisticated attacks pose a severe risk to the energy sector. A prime example was the 2015 Ukraine power grid hack, resulting in power outages for approximately 230 thousand consumers. APTs have the capacity to infiltrate networks and access sensitive data. They underscore the critical importance of proactive and comprehensive cybersecurity measures for technology vendors operating in the realm of critical infrastructure.

How is the risk of cyberattacks mitigated today?

Today, the most important measure is outlined in the NIS2 Directive. It describes the mandates to fortify networks and information systems, crucial for the uninterrupted functioning of critical infrastructure. The European Commission has taken a series of measures to tackle it, apart from the NIS2. These measures are described in the EU Cybersecurity Strategy and the Cybersecurity Package. The energy sector is particularly monitored due to its vulnerability and the potential cascading effects of a threat. Energy vendors are conscious of the threat and will and should look into solutions that mitigate it.

Reducing the risk with data encryption in use

As APTs can happen through any honest mistake of a technology vendor employee or partner, it is crucial to find a solution that doesn’t necessitate blind trust in everyone having access to critical data. One way to protect critical infrastructure is to protect the data in use, meaning that the data is not shared with anyone outside the organization, even if data processing has to happen by a third party. Technology vendors can use CanaryBit’s Studio to verify and enforce that only whitelisted software can access sensitive data, helping prevent ransomware attacks. This enforces trustworthiness in interconnected systems and significantly reduces the risk of advanced persistent threats. Connect us to learn more!

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