Picture the scenario, computers controlling the main infrastructure of energy supplies for some countries in Europe as well as America have been hijacked with people been killed, is it the end of the world as we know it?. No it’s not as Jack Bauer or John McClane is on the scene, asses are kicked, hijacked computers are retaken and we can all breathe a sigh of relief.
I have just outlined a scenario that Hollywood portrays in a Die Hard movie or a series of 24. It sounds farfetched and is typical popcorn fodder. Earlier this week Hollywood became reality when the scenario I outlined above actually happened. Well there were no deaths and Jack Bauer and John McClane were not involved.
A group of Russian hackers known as Energetic Bear or Dragonfly, have over the past 18 months attacked energy companies in the U.S. and Europe and they may also be capable of disrupting power supplies. Symantec earlier this week stated in their latest blog post that more than half of the infections found were in the U.S. and Spain, while Serbia, Greece, Romania, Poland, Turkey, Germany, Italy and France were also targeted.
“The Dragonfly group is well resourced, with a range of malware tools at its disposal and is capable of launching attacks through a number of different vectors,” Symantec said. “These infections not only gave attackers a beachhead in the targeted organizations’ networks, but also gave them the means to mount sabotage operations.”
It’s unclear whether a state is directly involved or if the group is trying to sell to a government, Eric Chien, chief researcher at Symantec’s Security Technology and Response Team, said in an interview.
Chien also stated that espionage was not high on their agenda and that sabotage was the most likely option. Symantec started actively monitoring Energetic Bears activities in 2012, when the attacks appeared to only be espionage.
The attacks are very similar to the ones that American and Israel launched in 2010 against the Iranian Nuclear Program. These attacks used a virus called Stuxnet and you will recall that I mentioned this in an earlier blog post. At the moment no real serious damage has happened but it’s looking more likely that systems could be shut down forcing power cuts and shortages.
As the attacks have been going on for at least the past 18 months with no major damage reported, it’s safe to assume that at the moment there is nothing to worry about. If the attacks keep happening this could change and the saviour of the world will not be a Jack Bauer or John McClane type character but a Steve Wozniak or Tron type character.
We used to worry about the threat of nuclear war and how it would affect us, but now the real threat is computers and cybercrime. So next time you are slurping your coke and eating popcorn at the cinema whilst watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster, don’t dismiss the plot as typical escapism as the chances are it’s very plausible, and it could actually take place in a city or town near you.