Hackers target Europe’s grid, Ukraine to use new Cisco device for protection

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Europe’s energy grids have been targeted by thousands of cyberattacks. According to a report by Politico, industry leaders and CEOs are seeking help from officials, with Ukraine the first to receive a prototype new device to defend its grid against cyberattacks.

Cyberattacks against utilities more than doubled over a two-year span, with 1,101 attempts each week registered in 2022, according to a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA). That led to cybersecurity specialist shortages. The cost of a single attack reached a record high of $4.72 million.

“Critical infrastructure, including gas, water, and particularly power utilities, are favored targets for malicious cyber activity,” the report said, noting that the EU utilities “were not fully prepared.”

A recent report by Europe's cybersecurity agency ENISA also showed that the energy sector ranked below sectors like transport, health care, banking, and the wider ICT sector in terms of what IT spending went into cybersecurity.

Energy heads of Europe are warning that more needs to be done. The Polish Deputy Energy Minister Ireneusz Zyska told Politico that he was observing thousands of attacks on the country’s grid taking place in real-time, associated with state-sponsored actors from Russia.

Leonhard Birnbaum, the chief executive of E.ON, one of Europe’s largest utilities, told Politico that there are more potential openings for hackers due to the digitization of Europe’s electricity grid.

“I think Europe can actually up their game here,” Birnbaum said.

Ukraine’s grid was hit the hardest, as hackers used Industroyer2, CaddyWiper, ORCSHRED, SOLOSHRED, AWFULSHRED, and other strains of malware to disrupt several elements of the country's critical infrastructure, weakened by Russian missile attacks. Russian strikes have destroyed about 40% of Ukrenergo's power substations and related equipment over the last two years.

In April 2023, CNN reported that US tech giant Cisco’s engineers developed and delivered a special pizza-box-shaped prototype device to Kyiv to help it fend off Russian attacks this winter.

After Ukraine’s state-owned grid operator Ukrenergo confirmed it was working despite Russian GPS systems attacks, Cisco shipped more kits.

Grid operators rely on GPS-based clocks to relay information about power flows. The new device mitigates GPS jamming issues.

To improve response to disruptive cross-border incidents, the European Commission proposed a recommendation to accelerate the work to protect critical infrastructure and enhance coordination in the response to incidents and crises.

The new Critical Infrastructure Blueprint aims to achieve improved shared situation awareness, ensure coordinated public communication, and provide an effective response.

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