Today, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's US-CERT (Computer Emergency Readiness Team) published a groundbreaking alert in which the U.S. Government, for the first time, publicly accused Russia of hacking U.S. critical infrastructure. The alert warned that Russian cyber actors were targeting, "U.S. Government entities as well as organizations in the energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors." If ever there were a direct admission by Uncle Sam that the very foundations of our modern society were vulnerable, this would be it.
DHS and FBI characterize this activity as a multi-stage intrusion campaign by Russian government cyber actors who targeted small commercial facilities’ networks where they staged malware, conducted spear phishing, and gained remote access into energy sector networks. After obtaining access, the Russian government cyber actors "conducted network reconnaissance, moved laterally, and collected information pertaining to Industrial Control Systems (ICS)."
What does this mean? It means the Russians are smart. They want us to know that they are capable of launching a cyber attack that can immediately plunge part of the United States into chaos with no power, no water, no air travel, and maybe a good scare at a nuclear power plant. That would immediately tank the stock markets, shake consumer confidence, and likely cause widespread unrest in the United States. If they took down the grid for more than 48 hours or so, things get bad quickly. And that gives them a lot of power.
Think this is all futuristic nonsense? Think again. Russia has been developing and actually using cyber warfare against their adversaries' critical infrastructure for years. Check out this Wired Magazine article, entitled, "How An Entire Nation Became Russia's Test Lab for Cyberwar." The article details how Russian hackers actually shut the lights off in Kiev, Ukraine. This stuff is real, and it's already happened. Are you prepared for a cyber-induced grid failure or an attack on a municipal water facility?
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On the 25th of January, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board announced that they had moved the Doomsday Clock to the closest to Midnight that it has ever been - two minutes away - and it had not been at this position since the height of the cold war in 1953. We sincerely hope that nuclear annihilation is not imminent, but The Bulletin's movement of the Doomsday Clock is yet another indication that the world is an unpredictable and unsteady place. To us, that's just another way of saying that preparedness is more important now than it has ever been.
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