What Would Be the Impact of a Cyber-Attack on the UK Energy Network?
Over the summer the National Grid outage demonstrated how reliant as a nation we are on our electricity supply. It would be a catastrophe if there was a prolonged absence of power leaving us in darkness, stranded in our transport network and without the connectivity, we all so heavily rely on.
A recent report published by Dr Edward Oughton from Oxford University claimed that a cyber-attack on London’s power grid alone could cost as much as £111 million per day and that even a small attack on our energy network would result in chaos for 1.5 million people. He said, “Critical national infrastructure such as smart electricity networks are susceptible to malicious cyberattacks which could cause substantial power outages and cascading failure.”*
Flagged as an easy target, the National Grid is considered by many to be a weak spot that could be targeted by our enemies, so should we be concerned?
Was the August 9th Power Cut a Cyber-attack?
John Pettigrew, National Grid chief exec dismissed any idea that the recent national power cut was in any way related to any kind of cyber-attack on our power supplies stressing the point that the National Grid is “certain” it was the result of a ‘freak coincidence’.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has also previously stated that there has never been a successful cyber-attack on the UK energy sector that had gone on to disrupt our energy supplies.
However, despite a cyber-attack not yet actually impacting on our energy network, the threat is almost constantly there. BT who run the national broadband network, counteract hundreds of hostile approaches each day and recently said that the increase of attacks has risen a thousandfold in the last five years, a sign that there is concerted effort to undermine our communication and power supplies.
Continued Threats to Our Energy Supplies
Following on from the nerve agent attack on a former Russian agent in Salisbury, there is now an increased level of caution across the UK around foreign meddling, and this extends to Britain’s main energy companies. Both US and UK security services issued a warning back in April 2018 that Russia was deliberately trying to target critical internet based infrastructure, which includes our electrical supply.
Disruption to key services throughout the UK would be disastrous, especially to our power networks, hospitals and communication channels. Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom, former chair of the Commons Defence Committee, says that securing our electricity network is pivotal – “If you take down the electricity network, you very quickly take down everything else as well. The vulnerability is real.” **
Close Call on 8th July 2017 – Election Day
James Allen from South Bank Investment Research collated an article on the real world impact that an attack on the UK National Grid and wider power supplies could have. Albeit to target investors, the article does make an interesting read about the vast damage that could be caused by a cyber-attack on our energy supplies.
He refers to The Daily Telegraph report that Russian hackers actually attempted to bring the UK to a standstill through a series of emails containing Word documents that allowed them to infect the computers of key people working in the UK energy industry. In short, hackers managed to smuggle out the documentation that contained crucial information and passwords for the UK power networks, so serious that the attack ‘could have allowed the hackers to remotely control power networks, switching off electricity systems, or causing disruption in the UK’s energy network.’
Currently, there are three natural gas lines and four electricity interconnectors at the bottom of the English Channel which supply over 3 million homes and according to the British First Sea Admiral Jones, the Russians have the ‘capability to detect and work on these cables.’ Russia has a history of attacking power supplies, namely back in December 2015 cutting power to over 250,000 people in Ukraine, and so there is a certainly a need for the UK to keep ahead of the game when it comes to protecting our power supply.
What Would Be the Impact of a National Power Cut?
The reason there is such concern about an attack on electrical supplies is the large scale disruptive impact it would have. Not everyone has measures in place for a backup generator to take the strain, especially for a long term power outage. Homes, businesses and entire cities would be plunged into the dark, and into the unknown with no idea as to when the power would be back up.
Consider things in your home that are powered by electricity. Your lighting, appliances, internet, heating, the list goes on. Outside in the street, the wider infrastructure of traffic light systems, train networks, even water supplies are reliant on electrical pumps for flats. Then, of course, there is the NHS, communications networks, all left in the dark.
Businesses would be unable to function without power to their physical shops, factories, supply chains, petrol stations and of course, computers and the internet.
The Measures in Place to Protect Our Electric Supplies
At Shenton Group we keep companies of all sizes, across a huge range of industries and locations functioning, even when there is a mains power failure. There is also a huge amount of investment being spent on safeguarding the wider power supplies throughout the UK, such as the National Grid.
- In the last six years, £10bn has been invested in improving the security, integrity and carbon performance of UK energy supply markets by the National Grid.
- The government has also made a £1.9 billion investment in cybersecurity defensive and offensive systems.
- Ofgem recently announced new funding of £96 million to improve cyber resilience in the UK energy sector.
- Wider private investment is constantly being made by companies looking to protect themselves from Cyber-attacks.
It is an interesting topic to keep an eye on, to see what additional steps are being put into place to protect our national electricity supply. If you have any concerns or questions about your power supply and would like to learn more about the options Shenton Group can provide during a power outage, then please do get in touch.