Hackers have the power to leave us in the dark

22 March 2016

UK systems are at risk from cyber-attacks


The danger to UK systems directly connected to the net should not be overstated, according to a spokesman for GCHQ.

According to a recent BBC report, hackers now pose a real threat to UK systems that help control power stations, water treatment plants and the transport systems we rely on.

The UK's intelligence and security base has warned that the single biggest vulnerability is connecting poorly protected corporate IT to operational technologies.

Operational technologies (OT) refers to the machinery in the field or on an industrial plant that keeps processes going or helps manage that remote installation.

"The vast majority of attacks actually go after the corporate IT and then will act as if they were legitimate users to get the ICS (industrial control systems) or operational technologies to do something," the spokesman said.

Just before Christmas 2015, more than 225,000 Ukrainians were plunged into darkness by a sophisticated attack on one of the nation's power companies.

The attackers struck in the afternoon of 23 December. They used the remote access they had gained to computers in the control centre of power firm Prykarpattyaoblenergo to flip circuit breakers and shut down substations.

In total, about 30 substations were turned off, causing chaos. Even now, months after the attack, computer systems at the Ukrainian energy company are not quite fixed because the malware used  in the attack deleted key files.

GCHQ has regularly advised the companies running the various parts of the UK's national infrastructure on better ways to organise their digital defences.

A firm with good defences against the threats that are aimed at its corporate systems will also help to defeat attempts to subvert that remotely operated plant and machinery.

“Should we be worried? Yes," the spokesman told the BBC. "There are people with the capability. There are people out there with the intent. But at the moment we are not in the position where we are seeing groups with both the intent and capability.

"We are doing all we can to harden the UK should these two things, capability and intent, come together."

To read the BBC article in full visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-35204921








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