New technology and new attacks are changing the face of the conversation among energy CSOs and security professionals, according to organizers and attendees of the 8th Annual Energy Cybersecurity Summit, held by the Energy Sector Security Consortium (EnergySec).
"There has been a lot of focus recently on industrial-control systems and attacks by nation-states, and those issues are important," says Patrick Miller, president and CEO of EnergySec. "But I think a lot of our members are also concerned about the basic issues surrounding regular old crime."
Power, utility, and energy companies hold a great deal of valuable information, including customer data as well as asset and telemetry data that is crucial to the power grid, Miller observes. "Databases are like banks to the cybercriminal, and these organizations are data-rich," he says.
As a result of these concerns, energy CSOs will focus a good deal of discussion on emerging technologies such as smart meters, those network-connected devices that collect and transmit power usage information -- and might be an entre for cybercriminals to tap energy company data, experts say.
Just two months ago, two tools for penetrating smart meter technology were demonstrated at the Black Hat USA and BSides conferences held in Las Vegas. The new tools are among a line of proofs of concept that indicate potential vulnerabilities in the smart grid.
"There are a lot of moving parts in the [advanced metering infrastructure]," says Don Weber, senior security analyst at InGuardians and the author of the tool that was demonstrated at Black Hat. "If criminals can find ways to make money from attacking smart meters, [power] aggregation points, or pole-top systems, they will do it."
While much attention has been paid to the possibility of nation-states disabling the North American power grid, it's more likely that attackers are seeking to steal data than to cause a catastrophic event, experts say.
"Smart meters can be an access point back to the utility's corporate network," Weber observes. "An attacker might also be looking to manipulate the data that's being metered. It's not always about interrupting the service."
Miller concurs. "China is not looking to turn out the lights in North America," he says. "We're important to their business, so they want us to stay in business. But if cybercriminals could tap into the trading floor of an energy exchange, or manipulate metering capabilities, or steal customer data, there is real money to be made there."
There have been a number of data breaches in the energy industry in 2012, the largest of which was the January compromise of customer data at New York State Electric & Gas Corp. (NYSEG) and Rochester Gas and Electric Corp. (RG&E), which affected an estimated 1.8 million customers. A report on the incidentwas issued last month.
"The data is as critical to these organizations as the industrial-control systems," says Brandon Dunlap, chief marketing officer at EnergySec.
Still, much of the discussion this week likely will center around energy ICS, the specialized systems that control the transmission of electrical power -- and, if breached, could cause the lights to go out.
"There are those attackers who are interested in bringing down the grid," Weber observes. "In addition to nation-states, there are hacktivists that may want to make a statement. You can't overlook it."
The emergence of malware attacks such as Stuxnet and Duqu, which were designed to interrupt activities in nuclear facilities, has made many energy security executives pay attention to the concept of targeted attacks on specialized systems, experts say.
"Reliability is a goal that is even more important in the utility industry than in other industries," Miller notes. "Anything that might affect that reliability of service is something that these executives will be paying attention to."
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