THE POWER AND PERIL OF ONE

Some infrastructure will increasingly be run on a converged network of networks – with the potential for failure – in the coming decades, but what’s the risk now?

BROADBAND
RISK: HIGH
Our national fibre optic and 5G mobile networks as well as undersea cables linking us to Australia and the US are now the lifeblood of digital
commerce and society and within a decade will act as the nervous system
of critical infrastructure.

Denial of service attacks that try to overwhelm targets with internet traffic are more often aimed at companies than the network operators themselves.

But increasing state-sponsored cyber warfare could see internet infra-
structure targeted more often, particularly as IP (internet protocol) systems run more critical infrastructure functions.

Fear of spying and networks shutting down during times of conflict
led the GCSB in 2018 to rule against Chinese telecoms-equipment maker Huawei participating in Spark’s 5G network build.

POWER GRID
RISK: HIGH

Remote-control systems are now in dams and power stations, transmission cables and lines networks. This has opened up the “operational technologies”, designed to keep energy generation going and electricity flowing, to new vulnerabilities. The prevalence of internet-
connected smart meters in tens of thousands of homes to monitor electricity usage opens up another risk of attack.

Attacks in Ukraine showed that power infrastructure can be digitally attacked, leading to blackouts. Stealth cyber warfare under way between the US and Russia in particular also shows both sides see disabling energy systems as a key capability to have in their offensive arsenal.

WATER NETWORK
RISK: MEDIUM

Clean water is the most basic and essential of utilities and it, too, is going online. US telco Verizon documented the hacking of an unnamed water plant in 2016, revealing that the hackers were able to alter settings related to water flow and the amount of chemicals used to treat the water.

The IT infrastructure controlling valves and water flow was also used by the hackers to steal 2.5 million customer records from the water company.

TRANSPORT
RISK: LOW
Traffic-control systems consisting of traffic lights and moveable barriers are increasingly being centrally controlled with CCTV and sensors used to monitor traffic flows. Numerous security flaws in traffic lights have been exploited over the years by hackers with minimal resulting disruption. But as driving-assistance technology and first semi, then fully autonomous systems are developed for roads and highways, the threat associated with connected transport systems will rise exponentially.

SMART CITIES
RISK: LOW

From rubbish bins and street lamps to council buildings, sensors will increasingly feed data back to a central location with the aim of improving city and regional services and infrastructure monitoring. Data theft and interfering with the operation of services and facilities will increase as
more Internet of Things devices open up more avenues for exploiting
security vulnerabilities.

Originally published in the New Zealand Listener April 2020