Cyber Security is Everyone’s Responsibility

By Hubert Yoshida posted 06-02-2021 21:21

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If you filled up your gas tank during the Memorial Day Holidays in the U.S., you found that the price of gas was the highest in seven years. The Average price of regular gas across the United States was reported to be $3.05 per gallon. To those of us living in California, that sounded cheap since the average price in California was $4.20 due to our higher taxes. This spike in gas prices was partially due to the ransomware hack of the Colonial Pipeline, a major artery delivering fuel from Gulf Coast refineries to the East Coast, which was shut down for about a week prompting widespread outages at gas stations in many states, causing panic buying and higher prices.

While this ransomware attack was against a specific company and the ransom of approximately $4.4 million in Bitcoin as paid within a day, the disruption it caused was the biggest impact for a cyberattack on physical operations of critical infrastructure in US history! The economic impact of this ransomware attack is being borne by every gasoline consumer across the United States.

Electrical vehicle owners have noted that this hack did not affect them. While they may be driving around with peace of mind during this crisis, this does not insulate them from cyberattacks. In fact the electrical infrastructure may be facing even greater cyber vulnerabilities. Although a cyberattack has not yet caused a widespread blackout, the risks can be seen in Ukraine, where Russian attackers shut down large portions of the grid in 2015 and again in 2016.

Electricity has an even greater impact on our lives than the gasoline that fuels our automobiles so the risks of cyberattacks on electrical systems will have an even greater impact. This gets even worse as we increasingly electrify, digitize and interconnect our lives including smart homes, smart cities, and smart automobiles. Everything smart is electrified. Also IoT means that there will be many edge devices which could provide many more avenues for attack. This past week, the chief economist of the International Energy Agency warned that because electricity is harder to store than fuel, an attack on the power grid in a world of electric vehicles would cause “an epic scale disruption with major social and economic implications.”

The hack against Colonial Pipeline is a warning of what might happen if a hack occurs against our electrical systems.  The costs to the economy when a piece of critical infrastructure goes down are far higher than the costs to the particular company that owns it, so firm’s must be incented to look beyond their own costs. That will require government incentives or directives. With so much of the electrical systems owned by private companies, cyber security directives will need to be implemented. Cybersecurity risks will proliferate as the energy system becomes increasingly electrified, digitalized, automated, and internet-based. Cyber security needs to be a top priority.

In addition to cyber security concerns, we also need to protect against the effects of climate change on our electrical systems. Living in California, we have become accustomed to brown outs and loss of power due to wildfires. This year we are facing another drought with the beginning of fire season in California. On the east coast we have the beginning of the hurricane season where large cities like New York could be disrupted again by another Hurricane Sandy. The worst scenario would be a natural disaster coupled with a cyber event which prevents or delays our ability to recover since we are so heavily dependent on smart systems.

As the world emerges from the restrictions of the pandemic, we need to focus on growing new threats and not let our guard down. There is a growing diversity of risks from cybersecurity and severe weather due to global warming. As we grow more interconnected, we must each do your part to protect one another. Just like wearing masks was necessary to protect others and not just ourselves, cybersecurity is required to protect us all.




05-04-2022 11:49


04-26-2022 13:41

Nicely written

07-24-2021 09:59

And it remains true that many of the security measures used to protect data are IT-based. ... Firewalls, permissions, encryption – all are technical solutions to the problem of preventing data loss, theft, and leakage.