Report: Hackers Targeted Hundreds of Energy Companies

Wednesday, 02 Jul 2014 04:19 PM

By Jennifer G. Hickey

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As many as a thousand energy companies in the United States and Europe were targeted by hackers, say researchers at the security company Symantec.

"An ongoing cyberespionage campaign against a range of targets, mainly in the energy sector, gave attackers the ability to mount sabotage operations against their victims. The attackers, known to Symantec as Dragonfly, managed to compromise a number of strategically important organizations for spying purposes and, if they had used the sabotage capabilities open to them, could have caused damage or disruption to energy supplies in affected countries," the company reported on Monday.

The Dragonfly group, described by Symantec as well resourced and in possession of a myriad of malware tools, was able to gain "a beachhead in the targeted organizations' networks, but also gave them the means to mount sabotage operations against infected ICS computers."

The targets included energy grid operators, major electricity generation firms, petroleum pipeline operators, and energy industry industrial equipment providers.

Eric Chien, technical director at Symantec's Security Technology and Response Team, told the tech website Re/Code that Symantec chose to wait to release its report until after the companies affected were notified and had ample time to fix their security gaps. He added that the compromised companies won't be identified by name, but that they included "names you would recognize."

According to a 2013 report by the Department of Homeland Security, the energy sector was the target of 111 cyber incidents during a six-month period ending in May 2013. In the preceding 12-month period, only 81 incidents were reported.

The increased vulnerability of the nation's power grid is a concern among industry officials. Gerry Cauley, president of the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC), told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during an April 2014 hearing that his main worry is "coordinated physical and cyberattacks intended to disable elements of the power grid or deny electricity to specific targets, such as government or business centers, military installations, or other infrastructures."

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