Modern field guide to security and privacy

Podcast: Why a Ukraine-style hack on US power grid isn't likely

Rob Lee, cofounder of cybersecurity company Dragos Security, who personally investigated the Ukraine hack, downplays the imminent risk of a major, isolated attack on the US power grid. 

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor.
Rob Lee speaks at a recent Passcode event on securing the US power grid.

The December cyberattack that left more than 200,000 people in the dark in Western Ukraine left many experts wondering: Could US adversaries pull off a similar operation and take down a portion of the American power grid?

That's not so likely right now, says Rob Lee, cofounder of cybersecurity company Dragos Security, who personally investigated the Ukraine hack. "The idea that we're going to randomly see a crippling attack on the power grid for no reason whatsoever is absurd," Mr. Lee said on the latest edition on The Cybersecurity Podcast.

Some experts and officials linked the malicious software found on the infected Ukrainian systems to Russian hackers. Tensions between the two countries have remained high in the aftermath of Moscow's controversial annexation of Crimea, a region previously tied to Ukraine.

Yet those who might be actively seeking to plot attacks against the US right now – in particular, terror groups – are ill-equipped to take down the country's critical infrastructure, says Lee, a former Air Force cyberoperations officer who also worked in counterterrorism in the military. 

Terror groups such as the Islamic State do not "have the capability to develop long-term operations to get into the power grid and develop specific engineering knowledge capable of causing physical destruction to infrastructure or causing long disruptions [in service]. It's just not possible," Lee says. However, he added, "we need to be careful as we become more interconnected and it becomes easier." 

Also in this episode: Podcast cohost Peter Singer, senior strategist at New America, discusses innovative ways to get more kids involved in cybersecurity – and not just at university level. Cohost Sara Sorcher, deputy editor of the Christian Science Monitor’s Passcode, explains the surprising findings in her recent article about what the US government really thinks about encryption.

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Follow the hosts: Peter W. Singer | Sara Sorcher 

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