Sony Cyberattack Should Concern Everyone

Cybersecurity was top of mind for most electric utility executives in 2014, and I’m confident it will remain there during 2015. As I write this editorial, the chaos created by the recent hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment continues. The hack job, which the FBI has said was at the hands of the North Korean government, exposed Sony’s internal emails and secrets. The incident occurred just a few weeks before the studio was to release the film “The Interview,” a comedy about a group of journalists who conspire to assassinate North Korea leader Kim Jong-un.

In addition to exposing Sony’s secrets, the hacking group threatened a “resolute and merciless” response against the U.S. if the film was released. This threat led many large theater chains to drop “The Interview” and eventually to Sony’s announcing it would not release the movie. A few days later, however, the studio said the movie would be released to a limited number of U.S. theaters.

The saga doesn’t end there. On the Monday before Christmas, North Korea lost all Internet service for more than 24 hours. Many, including North Korea’s government, believe the U.S. was responsible for the outage and that is was retaliation for the Sony hack. This has not been confirmed or denied.

The hacking of a Hollywood studio is not a matter of life and death, but it caused Sony executives much embarrassment and was a huge financial hit for the company. ABC news reported on Dec. 24 that the incident could cost Sony up to $100 million dollars in lost revenue and falling stock prices.

What’s more concerning, however, is that hackers could gain access to such information. If Sony’s private information can be accessed, then electric utilities’ can, as well.

Utilities house much confidential information about their customers and employees that, if exposed, could create havoc for utilities and their customers. This latest cyberattack hints that this information’s ending up in the hands of bad guys is a very real scenario. I won’t be surprised if it causes customers and utilities to slow down the development of new IT and social media tools used for monetary transactions and customer communications.

Worse is the risk of hackers’ gaining control of electric utilities’ infrastructure and knocking out power to millions of people, which likely would be a matter of life and death. This risk has been discussed and debated for several years, and utilities know it exists. This latest cyberattack drives home that not just utilities, but corporate America and state and federal governments must work together to improve their defense against such attacks.

POWERGRID International has covered cybersecurity for years, and as long as it remains top of mind for utility executives-which I expect for decades-we will continue to do so.

TERESA HANSEN   Editor in chief
TERESA HANSEN
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