One of my favourite authors, Ali Smith, describes the age she was born in, the realisation over the scenery of the sixties seems to fit the description we see when we open our eyes. Even if we’ve never been in Kansas, Toto. We have long since been welcomed to the cyber age, the age of technology, innovation, the greatest spread of ideas since the printing press opened shop. It’s a long way from the sixties but it’s all still psychedelic and transcendental. In most countries, in less than thirty aircushioned seconds and you can have your hands on just about any media or information from anywhere over the internet. It is globalization. It is great.
The age of information is our universe, expanding at rates, which amount to only a mere glint in the eyes of its users baring those who look it up or study it. Regarding this universe, George Orwell anticipated correctly. We are not alone. There is always someone watching, like the faceless big brother, and for the sake of feminism, sister. Even in the energy industry is not immune. It just seems that some little siblings have been throwing their toys of late.
Unlike the psychedelic sixties our activists are masked, hidden by internet profiles, their placards are their blog posts, tweets and social media faces. Those preparing to riot are fashioned behind anonymous masks trespassing beyond all virtual barricades set up by the police. In the information age, we have hackers who have created a whole new host of shadowy nightmares for officials who fight to keep their sites from being infiltrated or bombed with disruptive and crippling activity. It’s all a bit reminiscent of the Madhatter’s tea party. There is all too much going on to keep track.
Even in the ‘old-school’ protests not everyone who attended were necessarily there for the cause, and with the virtual masks we wear it’s hard to tell who is who. While the ‘hacktivists’ self-dubbed as ‘Anonymous’ seem to have moral arguments for the anarchy they like to cause there are hackers whose latest endeavours to disrupt the energy industry leave their motives unclear. Hit ‘em where it hurts?
India’s recent collapse of their power grid showed just how much it hurts (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444405804577560413178678898.html). Despite not everyone having access to electricity 680 million people (depending on the source you consult) felt the effects of a messy infrastructure for the second time on July 31, 2012 as it spread through 18 states (again depending on the source you consult), culminating in the world’s biggest blackout (on this fact everyone seems to be in agreement). This proved to be a costly experience for the emerging global power, in the region of hundreds of millions of dollars, not accounting for the effect on human life, such as the miners who were trapped. I’m sure the American’s recall the damage, which ensued from the great North-East blackout of 2003, which cost them around 6billion USD, (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=2003-blackout-five-years-later). Not being a stranger to power outages India was accustomed to using diesel generators, but it highlights our vulnerability of being without power. Our information disappears, hospitals can become compromised, business suffers and those used to having power have a small glance into the world of energy poverty, a reality, which about 1.3 billion face everyday (http://www.iea.org/topics/energypoverty/).
Energy poverty is a real hindrance to development and is considered in modern times a blight on living standards and human health, to put it lightly. However our quest for universal access to energy does not get nearly enough airtime, especially with regards to how we can do this sustainably. But Cheshire digresses and wants to focus on cyber security in the energy industry as the topic for today’s tea party. It all just seems to highlight the security preoccupation, what do we do if the energy sector should get hit?
A few small punches have been dealt by the latest virus targeting the energy sector. While faceless, the malware has a name, Shamoon. Security firm Symantec reports that Shamoon corrupts files, overwrites the Master Boot record. Data is deleted and replaced with image files to avoid data recovery being possible. The prognosis for which is a possibly unusable computer. (http://www.computerweekly.com/news/2240161674/Shamoon-is-latest-malware-to-target-energy-sector)
Although the casualties are low, the hits on the news are not. On August 16th ‘the guardian’ reported hackers taking responsibility for the virus attack on the oil giant, Saudi Aramco. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/aug/16/saudi-aramco-computer-virus-hacking-claims?newsfeed=true). The virus took the company network offline, but by isolating their computers they were left unharmed. The source of the attack is still uncertain.
Computer weekly reports: “Shamoon is the latest in a line of attacks that have targeted infrastructure. It follows Stuxnet, which was designed to hit nuclear infrastructure in Iran, and Duqu, Flame and Gauss, that have sought to infiltrate networks to steal data.”
We’ve heard of governments rallying for Cyber Security, which is becoming a number one priority to protect infrastructure from attacks. The Cyber Security Act of 2012 sponsored by Senator Joe Lieberman, is one of the latest attempts at cyber security legislation. However the second of August showed there was no such luck on passing this in the Senate. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dave-aitel/the-cybersecurity-act-of-_b_1737129.html). The argument against the Act seems to be that the private sector can do this on their own, that costs for businesses will be unsightly and that in an age where private companies in the USA are looking out for the security of the nation, the solution is unprecedented. Although we can imagine just how much it hurts, anything akin to ‘increased government control of information’ is enough to get most people to squirm. Nonetheless America is considering the use of an executive order to pass the bill (http://blogs.federaltimes.com/federal-times-blog/2012/08/14/senator-pushes-for-cybersecurity-via-executive-order/). Arguably the cost of this could be less than that which would possibly be accrued by a successful virus dealing what you may call a ‘sucker-punch.’
There is no doubting the potential casualties a successful virus could have on infrastructure wherever the source of infection. It has even resulted in terms such as ‘cybergeddon’ being bandied about. Companies are calling out officials for not doing enough. (http://www.smartgridnews.com/artman/publish/Technologies_Security/DOE-to-utilities-Create-cybersecurity-governance-NOW-5042.html).
As the energy sector pursues efficiency technology, as countries upgrade their energy infrastructure, we grow increasingly reliant on our networks. This all makes proper protection necessary. But when people want to get over a wall, they tend to find a way. Ask Johannesburg about their experience in having high walls and gated communities, which prove insufficient to keep out robberies in upper class homes. Walls address a symptom and not a cause. In the region of Johannesburg mass inequality is apparent and it is taking a while to get better. We do see improvements but electric fences probably haven’t contributed much towards solving the problem. So then what is the cause driving the hackers, what is the motif? Surely the desire to create anarchy must be a simplification of the problem? After all if they were hit with a power outage they would be just as helpless.
In the interim the question remains, just how high will hackers leap over the barricades to get their point across? What exactly is the point of the nameless and faceless striking fear into the hearts of companies and officials alike by their ability to complete highly complex keystrokes? If we’re not in Kansas anymore Toto, would it be a little dramatic to queue the theme song from the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz? Perhaps.