DHS Official: Hackers Used ‘Brute Force’ to Access US Utilities Corp

According to an anonymous Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official, the control system for an unidentified US utilities corporation was hacked into.

The unnamed DHS official claimed: “While unauthorized access was identified, ICS-CERT was able to work with the affected entity to put in place mitigation strategies and ensure the security of their control systems before there was any impact to operations.”

DHS and the Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) revealed this in a recent report.

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The known details are:

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• A hacker attacked a utilities corporation previously attacked
• Employee access was used
• This was a “simple hack”
• Brute Force was used to confirm the password obtained

Two years ago, a team of unknown persons took down 17 PG&E power transformers at a single substation in San Jose, California.

Media reported on this event: “The attack began just before 1 a.m. on April 16 last year, when someone slipped into an underground vault not far from a busy freeway and cut telephone cables. Within half an hour, snipers opened fire on a nearby electrical substation. Shooting for 19 minutes, they surgically knocked out 17 giant transformers that funnel power to Silicon Valley. A minute before a police car arrived, the shooters disappeared into the night.”

The unidentified ‘attackers” targeted the oil-filled cooling systems, forcing the transformers to overheat and crash with a fireworks display finale.

Officials were reported to have scrambled to redirect power from Silicon Valley to make up for the downed substation.

In February of last year, hackers breached the Department of Energy (D0E) computers to syphon personal information from employees. DoE officials reported the incident to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) who stated that the hackers used “sophisticated” attacks to steal “personally identifiable information” digital data, yet could have more sinister plans in the future should access be gained again.

Several hundred employees, including 14 computer servers and 20 workstations, were involved in the hack. The DoE have been cooperating with the FBI to identify the stolen data; as well as devise comprehensive strategies to prevent this from happening again.

SCADA Systems, a corporation that provides industrial automation technology to agencies surveilling the energy grid was targeted for an elaborate hack of their facilities in the US and Spain.

In a statement representatives from SCADA said: “We do not have any reason to believe that the intruder(s) acquired any information that would enable them to gain access to a customer system or that any of the compromised computers have been connected to a customer system.”

SCADA is connected through networks to power plants, water-treatment facilities, traffic lights and other “critical infrastructure”.

DHS confirmed that hackers posed an increasing risk to electrical utilities because some control systems may be connected to the internet.

The NA report pointed out that “cyber-attacks are unlikely to cause extended outages, but if well-coordinated they could magnify the damage of a physical attack.”

A hacker attack on the power system “could deny large regions of the country access to bulk system power for weeks or even months,” which would generate “turmoil, widespread public fear and an image of helplessness that would play directly into the hands of the terrorists.”


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