Oh, good: Iranian hackers trying to break into the American energy grid

posted at 2:31 pm on May 25, 2013 by Erika Johnsen

There has been plenty of focus on the amped-up levels of cyber-intrusion coming from China’s part of the globe lately, on which the Pentagon finally and officially called them out earlier this month, although they will deny, deny, deny in tones of shocked indignation ’til the cows come home. Not only do the Chinese have a robust domestic culture of commercial and government hacking (much of which is to keep voices of political dissent on lockdown — communism doesn’t just work on its own, you know), but the intellectual property theft and espionage they get up to with American and other foreign agencies and businesses is an insidious threat to both national security and free markets.

China is not the only one in the business of relentlessly trying to break into the many the digitized aspects of American political and civilian life, however. As you might imagine, certain Middle Eastern parties have — among other things — several reasons for a very definite interest in our energy grid and its smooth operations, and the WSJ reported this week that Iranian-based hackers are giving the Chinese a run for their money, and might even be the bigger threat because of their more openly hostile intent.

Iranian-backed hackers have escalated a campaign of cyberassaults against U.S. corporations by launching infiltration and surveillance missions against the computer networks running energy companies, according to current and former U.S. officials. …

U.S. officials consider this set of Iranian infiltrations to be more alarming than another continuing campaign, also believed to be backed by Tehran, that disrupts bank websites by “denial of service” strikes. Unlike those, the more recent campaigns actually have broken into computer systems to gain information on the controls running company operations and, through reconnaissance, acquired the means to disrupt or destroy them in the future, the U.S. officials said. …

The latest campaign, which the U.S. believes has direct backing from the Iranian government, has focused on the control systems that run oil and gas companies and, more recently, power companies, current and former officials said. Control systems run the operations of critical infrastructure, regulating the flow of oil and gas or electricity, turning systems on and off, and controlling key functions. …

Current and former U.S. officials wouldn’t name the energy companies involved in the attacks. or say how many there were. But among the targets were oil and gas companies along the Canadian border, where many firms have operations, two former officials said.

Yikes. The ‘suspected’ Iranian hackers are not quite on on China’s level in terms of infiltration prowess, but they are diligently working to develop their nefariously-applied skills further, via Foreign Policy:

The Middle Eastern hackers aren’t “in any way” as sophisticated as groups like APT1, according to Bejtlich. “The limited activity that we’ve seen seems to be almost educational on their part, it seems like they’re trying to determine what it’s like to operate on a live network.”

While Chinese hackers know what antivirus software to expect, how the network will be built, and even how its defenders will react to their presence, “the Iranians don’t tend to have that, from what we see but we think they’re taking steps now to develop those skills,” said Bejtlich.

He went on to say this activity may be a “leading indicator” that Iranian espionage operatives may be gearing up to conduct more advanced online operations. …

Rep. Mike Rogers, chair of the House Intelligence Committee has said that Iranian hackers may pose the biggest threat of a destructive cyber attack to the United States.

The Pentagon has been working on initiatives to robustly expand the United States’ cyber forces in preemptive defense of what former Secretary Leon Panetta called a potential “cyber-Peal Harbor”… and it sounds like we’re definitely going to be needing it.


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This is the tit-for-tat cr*p that went on with Vietnam. Nuke-em till they glow and there won’t be any cyber attacks going on from Iran against our energy grid.

chemman on May 25, 2013 at 2:40 PM

Obama is already doing enough to increase our dependence on foreign oil; he doesn’t need Iran’s help.

Marcola on May 25, 2013 at 2:57 PM

This is the tit-for-tat cr*p that went on with Vietnam. Nuke-em till they glow and there won’t be any cyber attacks going on from Iran against our energy grid.
chemman on May 25, 2013 at 2:40 PM
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Yep, there comes a point when you have to say, “enough of this bullshite”…

fabrexe on May 25, 2013 at 3:06 PM

This probably doesn’t get near enough attention from the public, we all just assume the government is taking care of us. And considering the last five years, I’m not sure why we are that deluded.

Cindy Munford on May 25, 2013 at 3:24 PM

It sure is a good thing that everybody has been pushing us towards a Smart Grid. I know I’ll feel much safer knowing that my electricity can be managed from anywhere in the world.

Oh wait!

LoganSix on May 25, 2013 at 3:30 PM

I assume the IRS gave Iran the list

faraway on May 25, 2013 at 3:31 PM

Certainly our president will take this threat seriously and do everything in his power to protect this nation…Oh Wait!

workingclass artist on May 25, 2013 at 3:46 PM

It sure is a good thing that everybody has been pushing us towards a Smart Grid. I know I’ll feel much safer knowing that my electricity can be managed from anywhere in the world.

Oh wait!

LoganSix on May 25, 2013 at 3:30 PM

Luddites Unite!

JK

: )

workingclass artist on May 25, 2013 at 3:47 PM

What goes around, comes around. The first cyber attack I am aware of was against Soviet Union (not Russian) oil pipe lines. It did not involve the internet of course. At the time the USSR economy was extremely dependent on petroleum. The Soviets were buying a pipeline controler from a Canadian company. It was assumed that they would copy it many times.
An American at the AEC came up with an original and clever scheme. The US and Canadian governments togther with the Canadian company implimented the scheme. The original controler had a bug in it. All the copies of the controler had copies of the bug which were set to fail at about the same time. All the valves downstream of each pump station slammed shut at about the same time. Pumps pipes and assorted other equipment were all destroyed from overpressure.
About that time the Soviet economy failed and the USSR came apart.

burt on May 25, 2013 at 4:08 PM

This is the tit-for-tat cr*p that went on with Vietnam. Nuke-em till they glow and there won’t be any cyber attacks going on from Iran against our energy grid.

chemman on May 25, 2013 at 2:40 PM

Just so we’re clear… you are advocating a nuclear first strike on a nation with which we haven’t declared/recognized war, a nation that in fact does not have nuclear weapons (yet).

Do I have that about right?

How wonderfully sociopathic of you…

JohnGalt23 on May 25, 2013 at 4:14 PM

This is just more anti-Iran war propaganda by those who want us to go to war for Israel. I don’t agree with them. I don’t feel our soldiers should have to die for Israel.

fatlibertarianinokc on May 25, 2013 at 4:23 PM

Normally, acts of sabotage would be consider an act of war. Normally.

BigGator5 on May 25, 2013 at 4:40 PM

Just so we’re clear… you are advocating a nuclear first strike on a nation with which we haven’t declared/recognized war, a nation that in fact does not have nuclear weapons (yet).

Do I have that about right?

How wonderfully sociopathic of you…

JohnGalt23 on May 25, 2013 at 4:14 PM

Crash the power grid and lots of people could die. Lots.

Would you rather try for a UN resolution condemning them?

trigon on May 25, 2013 at 5:27 PM

This is just more anti-Iran war propaganda by those who want us to go to war for Israel. I don’t agree with them. I don’t feel our soldiers should have to die for Israel.

fatlibertarianinokc on May 25, 2013 at 4:23 PM

Another Paulnut who can’t read. Missed that part of the post (i.e., the whole thing) about American energy grids, huh? Or did yourJoooooooooos!!! tic kick in just as you were typing this crap?

Athanasius on May 25, 2013 at 7:48 PM

operations of critical infrastructure, regulating the flow of oil and gas or electricity, turning systems on and off, and controlling key functions. …

And lest the weenies among us don’t see this as an act of war, probably more devastating ( or as ) than a small suitcase nuke…I’d like to suggest that they’ll change their tune when they can’t get heat, cooling and their cars sit in their driveways….useless. Or when their family’s are on dialysis or in hospitals depending on medical devices…and the end of social services.

Then the inevitable civil disorder and breakdown…which is why you want to see us unarmed, right? To be victims as you’ve set yourselves up to be….Oh those nasty , yucky guns.

You dweebs and kumquats don’t think very far or deep…do ya? It’s always about feeling with you infants.

Twana on May 25, 2013 at 8:12 PM

Trained at George Mason U in VA. Getting back our stupidity in allowing so many foreign students cause they pay! You would faint at the number Chinese we have trained to attack us. Just dumb.

faol on May 25, 2013 at 10:55 PM

fatlibertarianinokc on May 25, 2013 at 4:23 PM

Of course you don’t.

tbear44 on May 26, 2013 at 7:34 AM

Just so we’re clear… you are advocating a nuclear first strike on a nation with which we haven’t declared/recognized war, a nation that in fact does not have nuclear weapons (yet).

JohnGalt23 on May 25, 2013 at 4:14 PM

At least you were honest enough to put the “yet” disclaimer. Because unlike that oaf Saddam they are very much on track for nukes and once they do the cost of beating those barbarians goes through the roof.

And lest the weenies among us don’t see this as an act of war, probably more devastating ( or as ) than a small suitcase nuke…I’d like to suggest that they’ll change their tune when they can’t get heat, cooling and their cars sit in their driveways….useless. Or when their family’s are on dialysis or in hospitals depending on medical devices…and the end of social services.

Twana on May 25, 2013 at 8:12 PM

I’m imagining electric wheelchairs for the disabled being suddenly nonfunctional. Real fun to think about…

MelonCollie on May 26, 2013 at 10:13 AM

Thank you, Erika, for bringing this forward. It’s going to be a rude awakening for many when one of our foes succeeds with a serious and far-ranging cyber-attack.

It’s bound to happen sooner or later; all we can do is be aware of that fact, try to envision what such an attack might look like, and devote massive resources toward preventing such an event — and toward mitigating the impact of such should we fail to prevent it.

The most frightening aspect of this post is the lack of responses in the comments; I hope that doesn’t reflect the lack of concern.

This is too important to let lay; keep up the good work.

hillbillyjim on May 26, 2013 at 7:14 PM