Cyber attacks represent an efficient method of crippling the ability of your enemy to function and operate their country. As demonstrated in the attack against the Ukrainian power system in 2015, a virus or other malware, when introduced into the power grid control system, can cause extensive power outages.
Now, it appears that the US is investigating using some old school tech to thwart these high-tech attackers. In a move that is 180o out of phase with utilities implementation of the Smart Grid, an article from ZDNet reports that US Senators Angus King (I-Maine) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho), have introduced a bill named Securing Energy Infrastructure Act (SEIA), directly inspired by the Ukrainian attack.
In a nutshell, the bill would establish a two-year pilot program at US National Laboratories. Part of the pilot is to study grid vulnerabilities to cyber warfare. You can be sure there will be some “Star Wars” type stuff in this part. The old tech side of the pilot is devoted to studying how to use analog and manual devices to limit the cascading effects of a blackout caused by bad actors. These devices also limit the reach of the virus/malware since they do not operate with modern digital communication and control schemes.
Because electric grids are extensively interconnected, a lot of automatic digital equipment is installed to make overall grid management easier, faster, and more efficient. Unfortunately, this high degree of interconnectedness can contribute to a cascading of blackouts, and the digital devices are susceptible to direct attack. Shut down a few critical interconnection points, and you cripple vast portions of the electric grid.
While the Ukrainian outage affected 225,000 people on Christmas Eve, the lack of digital equipment at critical points in the distribution system prevented the attack from shutting off power to more people. For a variety of reasons, many distribution points like substations relied on analog equipment and manually operated switches. When the virus attacked the control system, these old school devices prevented the effects from going further.
To further underscore the concern over cyber-attacks, rumours have it that the KGB has started using mechanical typewriters and analog, rotary phones to limit the potential for hacking and spying by potential adversaries. If true, the arcane field craft of Cold War espionage may get a renewed lease on life as well.
There is another way to defend critical infrastructure like electric grid and internet-connected devices and processes, data encryption. Using rock-solid, nearly unbreakable encryption techniques, data can be made safe against interception, decoding, replacement, and so forth. Trying to interject malware into a highly encrypted system makes it significantly harder to cause harm.
Skudo is dedicated to using the very best open-source encryption algorithms operating in a secure hardware environment to make data safe. When data is safe, people are safe because the systems that rely on data get the “real thing” rather than a version designed by bad actors to cause harm. Check out what we are doing here, and if you have an old dial telephone, you might want to dust it off and use it for highly sensitive conversations.