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Is Your Electric Power Plant Safe from Cyber Attacks?

Is Your Electric Power Plant Safe from Cyber Attacks?

(Susan Leggett/Dreamstime)  

Wednesday, 22 February 2017 02:43 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Is the electric power plant serving your community and region insulated from cyber attacks? The answer is likely not. We all take electric power for granted.

Yet, modern society can’t exist without it. It is for this reason that in case of war any adversary will try to destroy our power structure.

Only when we experience natural calamities do we realize how much we depend on electric power.

How come we are vulnerable?

The answer lies in part on our obsession to connect nearly all electronic devices on the internet. This includes computers and other control devices in vital installations such as power plants.

These devices electronically control the pressure in a boiler or the speed of a turbine.

All these devices have their own wiring system inside the plant and are safe from cyber attack as long these computers don’t have a plugged-in Internet cable.

Using these internet connected wires allows enemies, perhaps even from other continents, to feed malicious software to re-program the operating computers which then crate havoc with the system.

This already has happened.

We already know of instances where such cyber sabotage has already happened. In July of 2007, a massive cyber attack by unknown parties paralyzed Estonia’s key power infrastructure. The interruption of services lasted several weeks and caused severe economic damage and social turmoil.

Since then, a computer worm called "Stuxnet" disabled about one-fifth of all of the centrifuges in an Iranian uranium enrichment plant at the Natanz nuclear facility.

Also in Iran, a "worm" that was found embedded in the process control equipment at the Bushehr nuclear facility almost destroyed the plant.

Why management allows or even insist on adding completely unnecessary Internet services to plant operating systems?

Certainly banks, for instance, need to connect their branch offices with the main bank —  using the internet. Yet, why we need the Internet in the operating room of a refinery, other than tell the president of the refinery in New York about the daily output of the plant in Texas.

Could not such data be simply transmitted by telephone instead of email?

The other reason such Internet abuse is done is that there are now large companies whose business is to sell security devices like "firewalls" claiming to "absolutely" protect Internet connected computers from getting bugged.

This lulls top management into a false sense of security.

Yet, we read almost daily about banks and other institutions, even top secret government facilities being hacked despite all these security devices.

Also, being aware of possible acts of sabotage, it behooves us to take precautions.

As mentioned previously, one step toward safeguarding your system from hackers is to disconnect all Internet cables from process control computer systems or other critical computers.

This is called "establishing an air gap" in modern parlance.

Remember. There are many other safe ways to transmit information or data besides the Internet. Remember also, encrypted messages can be broken and firewalls can be bypassed; none of these can guarantee you absolute safety and future reliability of your electric power.

As far as personal security is concerned, this is what I do. I use two computers, one connected to the Internet for mail and other ecommunications; a second computer for all other functions which need to be private and secure.

Hans Baumann is a licensed engineer in four states and a member of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society. He is an adviser to the dean of the University of New Hampshire Business School. Baumann has published manuals on valves and was a contributor to many works including the "Instrument Engineers' Handbook" and the "Control Valves Handbook." He has also published several books on business management and German history. His book "Hitler's Escape," suggests that Adolf Hitler did not commit suicide and survived World War II. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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Is the electric power plant serving your community and region insulated from cyber attacks? The answer is likely not. We all take electric power for granted.
electric, firewall, power
Wednesday, 22 February 2017 02:43 PM
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