The IT infrastructure that runs the electricity market in the UK has been hit by a cyber security attack, jeopardising electrical networks for a huge number of businesses and households.
Last week, the electricity system’s administrator Elexon confirmed it had been hacked into, impacting its server and resulting in employees being cut off from communications.
However, thanks to security measures, the key systems that govern the wider electricity network were not affected.
A spokesperson for the company said: “BSC Central Systems and EMR are currently unaffected and working as normal. The attack is to our internal IT systems and ELEXON’s laptops only.”
This meant that lights across the UK, as well as household appliances, office equipment and crucial medical apparatus were able to stay on despite the security breach.
The following day, Elexon confirmed core services were “unaffected by the cyber attack”. This is because it uses BSC Central Systems to balance and settle payments in the electricity market, with Elexon’s role being the middle man between electricity suppliers and producers.
It monitors the generation of electricity by energy companies and matches it to the demand on the National Grid, pursuing payments for the providers that are producing the required amount of current.
By utilising BSC Central Systems, the data is secured by a third party service provider. As a result, “this is separate to ELEXON’s own internal IT and have therefore been unaffected by this incident and continue to operate”.
The spokesperson added: “There are no communications links or data traffic between the BSC Central Systems and the internal ELEXON network which was impacted by this incident.”
While none of the company’s employees were able to access email accounts following the incident, a company representative told The Guardian it was “working to resolve the issue”, having identified the root cause of the security breach.
Businesses and households across the UK were reassured that “robust cybers ecurity measures [are] in place” to ensure electricity continues to be received by everyone without any disruption.
Furthermore, as the National Grid Electrical System Operator (ESO) has a strong cyber security system too, its electricity supply was not impacted, enabling energy customers to receive electricity as usual.
Although the company did not reveal details of the attack, it has become an optimum target for cyber criminals over the years due to the high value of the transactions it handles and its role as a crucial component in the supply of energy across the UK. Indeed, it reportedly manages around £1.7 billion worth of transactions every year, which means it is particularly appealing to hackers.
However, as it controls critical national infrastructure, being victim of a cyber security attack could be concerning.
Director at cyber security specialist Alsid Jerome Robert told Forbes: “Although there is still much we don’t know about this specific hack, with most employees working remotely, security professionals are faced with unprecedented new threats caused by the behaviour of staff and challenges around enabling remote access.”
Alternatively, it could have been the result of a ransomware attack, which would mean the company is on a “long and expensive road to recovery”.
This comes after ENTSO-E, which oversees Europe’s power infrastructure, fell victim to a malware attack. The organisation, which represents 42 Transmission System Operators (TSOs) across the continent, revealed it had “recently found evidence of a successful cyber intrusion into its office network” in a statement released in March.
Such an incident demonstrates the popularity of attacking major infrastructure systems. Although no further information has been released about the severity or source of the breach, ENTSO-E stated: “A risk assessment has been performed and contingency plans are now in place to reduce the risk and impact of any further attacks.”
Conversely, it recognised the importance of electricity supply, “even more so in the context of a pandemic”.
It reassured energy customers across the 35 states it operates: “Despite unprecedented circumstances, all European power systems are operating currently in a normal mode.”
The organisation added: “The decentralised system design with shared responsibilities amongst European TSOs is again providing its efficiency for a reliable and stable electricity system.”
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