National Grid is setting up “honeypots” and planting false documents online as part of efforts to counter the rise in cyberattackers.
The Grid has advertised a contract worth more than one million pounds to secure advanced cyber “fraud” technology to help improve its digital security.
The London-listed infrastructure provider, which runs Britain’s electricity network and supplies millions of customers in New York and Massachusetts, is looking for security experts who can deploy so-called “honeypots” or “honeytokens” to lure potential attackers. Can do
“Honeypots” is a cyber security term used to trick hackers into getting noticed and blocked from systems.
Covertly monitoring the approach of potential attackers can help organizations improve their security.
Grid’s contract suggests techniques could include placing “false documents designed to appear sensitive or valuable” online to lure hackers.
The sophisticated defense strategy comes amid growing concerns about cyber attacks on critical infrastructure in the West, often supported by enemy states.
Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden warned in April that “ideologically motivated” Russian hackers were trying to “disrupt or destroy” British infrastructure in response to sanctions and support for Ukraine.
Recently the National Cyber Security Center, a division of GCHQ, has warned about the growing threat from Chinese hackers.
Martin Boret, Technical Director, IBM Security, said: “As the energy sector becomes more digital, the potential damage from cyber attacks becomes even greater, making the industry a top target for attackers.
“Last year 16 per cent of all cyber attacks monitored by IBM Security in the UK were attributed to energy companies.”
Technical failures in UK air traffic control systems that caused holiday chaos at airports over the past two days have demonstrated the fragility of the computer systems on which key UK services depend. However, a cyber attack has been denied by the government, instead attributing it to a technical error.
National Grid is preparing to deploy “honeypots” ahead of a government deadline to upgrade its cyber security protections.
Energy regulator Ofgem has set a December deadline for gas and electricity companies to comply with tougher new rules.
An Ofgem spokesman said suppliers recently faced new responsibilities under updated Networks and Information Systems regulations.
He added: “We take cyber security incredibly seriously and work closely with energy suppliers to ensure they are doing everything they can to protect their systems and comply with their responsibilities “
National Grid said in a statement that its systems are “robust”, adding that it works closely with regulators and government departments to meet the new rules.
It added: “Our systems enable us to monitor, locate and protect our networks to keep energy flowing. We work closely with government, industry partners and regulators to protect our networks from current and future threats.
Christopher Budd, director of threat research at cyber security company Sophos X-Labs, said the tender document showed National Grid had the “in-house capability, expertise and staffing” to detect and defeat cyber attackers.
Countries such as Russia, Iran and China have been at the forefront of cyber attacks against critical infrastructure around the world.
Last year, Russian hackers penetrated the computer systems of a Ukrainian power station, but were stopped before they could do any damage.
Ben Reed, head of cyber espionage analysis at Google-owned Mandiant, said: “Russia has historically done a lot of this sort of thing, and it’s investing in it and showing great potential.”
In May, Chinese hackers were found to have planted malicious software inside a US military base on the Pacific island of Guam, with reports suggesting the “malware” was designed to target power networks.
Industry experts warned that the drive to boost cyber security in the private sector is being hampered by a shortage of skilled people.
Mick Flitcroft, principal security advisor at the NCC Group, said: “We are seeing slow progress in trying to develop biological cyber capabilities, but there is a lack of resources in the workforce… Many systems [also] Remain vulnerable due to outdated hardware and control systems.”