International cyber warfare increases in intensity against U.S.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Two stories have hit in the past 24 hours involving cyber attacks on the U.S. Yesterday, in a major escalation of tensions between the U.S. and Russia, the Trump administration accused Russian-backed hackers of carrying out systematic operations to penetrate and sabotage power plants at will.

“We’re going to be tough on Russia until they decide to change their behavior,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders. At the same time, she left open the possibility of better U.S.-Russia cooperation, saying that “if we can work together to combat world threats on things like North Korea, then we should.”

U.S. national security officials said the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and intelligence agencies determined Russian intelligence and others were behind a broad range of related attacks starting at least a year ago. The targets of the attacks are facilities that hundreds of millions of Americans rely on every day.

The officials said the hackers chose their targets methodically, obtained access to computer systems, conducted “network reconnaissance,” and then attempted to cover their tracks by deleting evidence.

“I’m as worried about cybersecurity as I am nuclear,” Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) said following Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s comments that the he is “not confident” the federal government is doing enough. “I think we’re attacking it department-wide, but I’m not sure we’re attacking it government-wide,” said Simpson.

Meanwhile, today cybersecurity firm FireEye reported that Chinese hackers have launched a wave of cyberattacks on mainly U.S. engineering and defense companies linked to the disputed South China Sea.

A suspected Chinese cyberespionage group dubbed TEMP.Periscope appears to be seeking information that would benefit the Chinese government, the U.S.-based provider of network protection systems said.

The hackers have focused on U.S. maritime entities that were either linked to—or have clients operating in—the South China Sea, FireEye senior analyst Fred Plan said, speaking in Los Angeles.

“They are going after data that can be used strategically, so it is in line with state espionage,” said Plan, whose firm has tracked the group since 2013. “A private entity probably wouldn’t benefit from the sort of data that is being stolen.”

Among other industries, the supply chain especially should take notice, especially as companies explode into the digital space. Increasing dependence on telematics and connected vehicles means increasing exposure.

While blockchain is the very kind of technology that could thwart such attacks, it’s still nowhere scalable enough for implementation to be a solution now. And the very issue of the amount of power required to use the technology such as it is raises similar questions: What about if cyber attacks aimed themselves at the source itself—their power grid—rather than trying to break through the virtually unbreakable code?

While this is speculation, it is not unwarranted. The issue is increasing in seriousness. It’s become more than mere “disruption,” or simply pulling the U.S.’s chain. Meddling in elections and creating social media “trolling farms” in Eastern Europe is one thing. Hacking into the infrastructure that keeps the lights on, and the supply chain moving is next level.

Last summer, Danish shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk had to effectively shut down operations for a week last summer, and re-implement their IT after getting hit from a little known Ukranian-firm called MeDoc (the virus itself was called Petya).

“I’ll never forget, it was the 27th of June when I was woken up at 4 o’clock in the morning. A call came from the office that we had suffered a cyberattack,” CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe said, speaking at a panel in late January on securing the future of cyberspace at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“The impact of that is that we basically found that we had to reinstall an entire infrastructure,” Snabe said. “We had to install 4,000 new servers, 45,000 new PCs, 2,500 applications.”

“And that was done in a heroic effort over ten days. Normally—I come from the IT industry—I would say it’s gonna take six months. It took ten days,” Snabe added, referring to his previous position as SAP’s CEO.

While the efforts of the IT department were certainly impressive, the damage was estimated between $250 and $300 million, according to estimates from U.S. pharmaceutics giant Merck and U.S.-based international courier FedEx, whose supply chains were both dramatically impacted by the attack.

If there was any good news from the experience, it’s that the experience now serves as “an important wake-up call,” Snape said. “We were basically average when it comes to cyber-security, like many companies. And this was a wake-up call to become not just good—we actually have a plan to come in a situation where our ability to manage cyber-security becomes a competitive advantage.”

That’s what the recent news should be for supply chain companies from land to air to sea: step it up. This should effectively serve as a wake-up call. Make a plan and manage your security now.

Stay up-to-date with the latest commentary and insights on FreightTech and the impact to the markets by subscribing.

Show More

Chad Prevost

Chad is radio host and broadcast media specialist for FreightWaves.