You Think Extreme Weather Is Bad? Wait ‘Till The Russians Come: U.S. Scrambles To Shift Focus Away From Failed Infrastructure

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You Think Extreme Weather Is Bad? Wait 'Till The Russians Come: U.S. Scrambles To Shift Focus Away From Failed Infrastructure

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On February 19th, the US began finding excuses as to why critical infrastructure in Texas failed due to bad weather conditions.

It wasn’t due to bad weather, poor planning, faulty equipment, lack of proper safety protocols or foresight.

It was due to Russia and China.

State-funded US outlet USA Today published a piece by Jim Cunningham, former president of the Pennsylvania Electric Association and a former senior vice president of the New York Power Authority, is executive director of Protect Our Power. Not to be confused with former US Ambassador to Afghanistan.

“The massive electric power outages in Texas may seem puzzling to many: How can a state so rich in energy resources be brought to its knees by a winter storm, leaving millions of households without electricity and many without water?

The early blame game has elected officials pointing the finger at renewable energy resources and “green energy” policies, and calling for the heads of power companies and the state’s electricity regulators. The governor announced he is launching an official investigation, and judgment should be reserved until an unbiased process has been completed.”

Finger-pointing is useless at this point, but if it should be done – the finger should be pointed at Russia and China, nobody else.

Currently, extreme weather is the issue, but soon it would be the Russians and the Chinese.

“Today the culprit in Texas and several other states is extreme winter weather, but the greater threat we face is not weather related. It is the daily bombardment of cyberattacks on our nation’s critical infrastructure — most notably on the electric sector that provides the power upon which the rest of that infrastructure relies to operate.”

He reminded of the SolarWinds hack that was allegedly carried out by Russians, but no evidence has yet been provided.

Upgrades are needed to increase safety, not because people are dying or are left hungry or in the cold, but because the Russians and Chinese are coming.

“This quiet but unceasing barrage of sophisticated cyber intrusions by Russia, China and others, similar to the more high-profile situation in Texas today, highlight the fact that upgrading the U.S. electric grid needs to be a national priority, and the cost of doing so should be shared equitably by federal and state governments, electric utility companies and consumers. Such a program could include grants, low-interest loans and other incentives to dramatically improve and modernize the grid.”

And immediately, on February 18th, the U.S. government issued a cybersecurity alert to operators of critical infrastructure, outlining “immediate actions” that should be taken during a “time of heightened tensions” to avoid being compromised by a cyberattack.

Recommendations include disconnecting from the internet any operational systems that do not need connectivity for safe and reliable operations, and planning for “continued manual process operations” should the industrial control systems (ICS) become unavailable or need to be deactivated due to hostile takeover.

Security experts say it is significant that the National Security Agency (NSA) joined the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on the alert, and that the alert was not related to a specific incident. The warning could be a nod to tensions with several adversaries of the United States, they said, including Russia, China and Iran.

“Civilian infrastructure makes attractive targets for foreign powers attempting to do harm to U.S. interests or retaliate for perceived U.S. aggression,” the alert said. While the utility sector was not specifically mentioned, the alert does reference a 2015 cyberattack in Ukraine that caused more than 200,000 people to lose power.

“Although I am not aware firsthand of any significant increase in attacks targeting utilities, the fact that the US [Computer Emergency Readiness Team] released that briefing at a strategic level, without any specific indicators of compromise, heavily implies that there is a rise in these attacks and that multiple groups are targeting industrial control systems,” Bill Swearingen, a cyber strategist at IronNet Cybersecurity, told Utility Dive in an email. “This is a ‘trend attack’ that we’ll likely continue to see.”

The alert warned of attacks “at this time of heightened tensions.” That could mean tensions with several nations, said Jamil Jaffer, senior vice president of strategy, partnerships and corporate development at IronNet.

“We know the Russians have sought and gained sustained access to American critical infrastructure, and we know the Iranians have tried also,” Jaffer said in an email. “Given all this, while it’s not clear what specific heightened tensions the alert is referring to, certainly there are plenty of potential challenges globally at this time.”

So yes, stay safe and warm – the Russians, Chinese, Iranians are coming, and they are using the weather and one’s own incompetence against them.

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