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Israel Launches ‘Cyber Iron Dome’ to Protect its Electrical Grid

The Israel Electric Company (IEC) is concerned about protection of the Jewish nation’s electrical grid. The recent 50 day summer 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza witnessed more than 2,300 rockets reining death and destruction on Central and Southern Israel. Several hundred rockets headed towards major population centers in the State of Israel were detected and literally knocked from the skies by the Iron Dome system batteries. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad rockets over the period from 2006 to 2014 have targeted the Rutenberg Power Plant of the IEC in Ashkelon. The power plant has also been subject to periodic outages. The vulnerability to physical attack was illustrated by Gaza’s sole power plant destroyed during the conflict.

Physical threats are only one aspect. There are also Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) and cyber attacks. Cyber attacks on critical operating systems, such as Siemens’ SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) are something that Israel may know about. There was the development of the Stuxnet malware that disrupted Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. Israel to this day remains silent about any involvement in the malware’s development.  Israel’s electrical network vulnerabilities led the IEC to partner with the Israeli firm of mPrest that had developed the critical sensor and detection software system at the core of the Iron Dome System. The objective was to develop a means of intercepting and deterring cyber threats to the national grid.  On Tuesday, the Information Grid (IG) system was unveiled at a Homeland Security Conference in Tel Aviv.

The Times of IsraelStart Up-Israel technology publication reported this ground breaking development; Israel presents an ‘Iron Dome’ for ‘electricity terror’. Eugene Kaspersky of the eponymous cyber protection concern that discovered Stuxnet recently commented:

“We’ve seen numerous cases of attacks on industrial infrastructure – Stuxnet was far from the only one,” said Kaspersky. “There is an international army consisting of tens of thousands of engineers out there developing SCADA malware. One day, a terrorist organization is going to get the bright idea to acquire one of these tools and deploy it to make their ideological point. If it hasn’t happened yet, it’s just a matter of time until it does.”

Because of the terrorist threat to Israel’s national grid, the IEC reached out to mPrest to develop a solution. Start Up –Israel described the process and what IG does:

IEC partnered with a subsidiary of mPrest Systems, called mPrest Electric, which was a member of the IEC’s KARAT Incubator. Drawing on the tech used by mPrest to design and operate Iron Dome, the companies designed the Information Grid, which checks the flow of electricity to ensure that lines are not overloaded, and that electricity “viruses” — attacks on specific sections of the grid – don’t spread, allowing administrators to quickly identify suspicious activity and isolate it.

The heart of IG is:

a command and control system similar to the one that controls Iron Dome. When an attack is detected – if a SCADA system that is controlling electrical flow starts acting “funny,” for example – the Grid will notice it right away, and it will automatically shut off connections to the substation or segment of the system that has been compromised, preventing further damage and allowing security personnel to better track the source of the attack.

The system allows integration and control in real-time of thousands of sensors, which are installed at about 300 different sites in Israel. The sensors measure a wide variety of data, which flows into the Grid and is analyzed in real time. The Grid is based on a unique architecture which allows the integration of an infinite number of systems and assets, with no limitation on the number of links or data, said the IEC, and it can also handle additional information from a wide variety of legacy programs that measure and record data.

Here in the US we had investigative articles by the Wall Street Journal about a purported terrorist attack against the Metcalf substation of Pacific Gas and Electric in Silicon Valley. Aroused by the Metcalf substation attack, Jon Wellinghoff ,the former head of the Federal  Energy  Regulation Commission (FERC),   directed that   simulation studies  of  possible attacks be made  at key substations in the national grid. Those simulations of the national grid alarmingly revealed that terrorist attacks at just 9 strategically located substations in the US could collapse the entire grid.   The Congress has also been concerned about the vulnerability of the national grid arising from a Commission that released a report in 2006 about how to protect the electrical infrastructure from both natural and man-made EMP attacks.  That  led to development of   H.R. 2417 SHIELD (Secure High-voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage Act)  and  H.R. 5026 GRID  (Grid Reliability and Infrastructure Defense Act) -proposals to harden the nation’s electrical system and protect the infrastructure from EMP, physical and cyber attacks.  Neither of these legislative proposals has progressed due to  opposition by the US electrical power industry because of alleged significant additional investment to achieve security. We wrote in a March 2014 Iconoclast post:

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), the principal electric utility standard setting organization, has opposed passage of the SHIELD Act calling the network “resilient”.  Au contraire says an official of Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) cited by the WSJ: “The breadth and depth of the attack was unprecedented” in the U.S., said Rich Lordan, senior technical executive. “The motivation”, he said, “appears to be preparation for an act of war.”  When we checked the websites of the  House Energy and Commerce Committee  Chairman  Fred Upton (R-MI ) and  Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) their major concerns  were the vulnerability of the grid to cyber attack.

The  joint IEC-mPrest  Information Grid cyber protection  development should be of interest to  FERC, NERC and EPRI given  Congressional concerns over the vulnerability  of the  national  grid to terrorists, EMP  and cyber threats.

This latest display of Israeli high tech ingenuity should raise interest in protecting currently vulnerable US, EU and other electrical grids.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on the New English Review. The featured image of a hacker is by Dreamstime.