Do you wonder what future cyber security threats the cyber crooks are working on to steal our money, through our computer use? According to Computerworld, the cybercriminal list of law-breaking hacking includes:
– text-message malware
– hacking into smart grids
– social network account spoofing
– cyber stalking
– hackers controlling your car
– GPS jamming and spoofing.
My thoughts on this list are that the threats are plausible (at least one has already begun), the targets are available (or will be), and there is money to be made for the cybercriminal organizations that sponsor these threats. But what really grabs my attention about these future threats is that their development will require resources such as funding, expert programmers, and intelligence, that would mirror the investment in research and development of top corporations. And is easily affordable by the cybercrime organizations because of the large amounts of money they have amassed in recent years…our money.
These six threats will each be addressed in a series of articles on this blog commencing with hacking into smart grids in this post.
A smart grid is defined by Wikipedia as: A smart grid is a form of electricity network using digital technology. A smart grid delivers electricity from suppliers to consumers using two-way digital communications to control appliances at consumers’ homes; this could save energy, reduce costs and increase reliability and transparency if the risks inherent in executing massive information technology projects are avoided. [more on this below] Emphasis is mine. The “Smart Grid” is envisioned to overlay the ordinary electrical grid with an information and net metering system, that includes smart meters. Smart grids are being promoted by many governments as a way of addressing energy independence, global warming and emergency resilience issues.
Electricity networks using digital technology have been used in manufacturing to control the energy consumption and costs for many years. They use control devices attached to each electrical circuit in the plant connected to a central computer that monitors the amount of electricity used in real-time. Thresholds of total use can be established to prevent usage rising over a certain volume. This is usually done by prioritizing the electrical circuits that are controlled and when the central computer projects that the threshold is about to be exceeded, it begins shutting off lower priority circuits. Although the term “smart grid” has become popular only in the past year or two, the principle of the electricity network is the same…except we’re talking about doing this across whole countries.
The threat to smart grids which are connected across a whole country is that they will undoubtedly be vulnerable to hacking. Cybercrime organizations will see a national smart grid as an opportunity to gain control over the grid, in whole or in part, to withhold power in order to extort funds from industries who depend on uninterrupted electrical power to stay in business. They might also extort money from governments with the threat to overload the electricity grid in a way that will cause it to crash, precipitating blackouts across large areas, including major cities.
Terrorists hacking into the grid might use it to shut down major sectors of our critical infrastructure in order to supplement a physical attack and the consequent recovery effort.
If I really polish up my crystal ball, I can foresee organized cybercrime packaging hacking software and “how to hack” kits for smart grid attacks, for sale to other criminals.
The bottom line is that the national smart grid, that countries are developing as we speak, must be designed to be protected from the hacking described above; or at least designed to limit the scope of such attacks. This must be imbedded in the design in order to systemically harden the grid to such attacks instead of trying to defend it after the fact. If designed with security as the primary objective, it may be possible to avoid the inevitable threats…otherwise, the smart grid will be vulnerable to takeover by criminals or worse.
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Home computing is a blast…keep it safe, productive and enjoyable.