Energy Industry Incident Response

Energy is vital to our everyday life. Companies face a competing demand to preserve data and at the same time continue to function. Experts Lee Neubecker and Geary Sikich give advice on how to overcome these challenges.

The Energy Sector provides the global economy with oil, gasoline, electricity, wind and natural gas. An Energy Industry incident could be a physical attack on a power grid or a cyber attack that stops a company from functioning. The properly planned and orchestrated energy sector incident response will minimize or reduce recovery time and loss. Potentially saving lives! Enigma Forensics CEO & President, Lee Neubecker and Geary Sikich, Principal at Logical Management Systems, Corp. strongly urge all companies to create an incident response plan.

This is the final segment in the four-part series on Energy Sector Cyber Insecurity.

Part 4 of our Global Energy Sector – Incident Response

Energy Sector Incident Response video transcript follows

Lee Neubecker: Hi I’m here again with Geary Sikich, and we’re continuing with our final fourth part segment in this discussion about global cyber insecurity as it relates to the energy sector. And in this segment, we’ll be telling you a little bit more about some of the things that need to happen, related to the incident response of a data breach, for the energy sector. Geary, thanks for coming back.

Geary Sikich: Thanks Lee for having me. I think this is, probably one of those areas that are challenging to talk about.

LN: Yeah, certainly, and at the forefront, when things first go wrong, there’s a need to immediately take action to help preserve the data, and collect data so that it can be analyzed. But at the same time, there’s a competing demand for wanting the organization to function. And sometimes those two needs, create conflicts.

GS: Yeah, they sort of butt heads if you will. Yeah, I think the issue for a number of organizations, and I’ve experienced being in the kind of command center if you will, of organizations where their website had gone down. And it was, one of these where a lot of stuff was processed through the portals that they had there. Suddenly there was this pressure to get things back up, and then to look at, what is this costing us? Because now our customers cannot execute their orders and whatnot. And that becomes a challenge because it’s the urgency issue. The other aspect is that when we look at incident response, and this is a little bit different from the typical natural disaster incident response. If I’ve been breached in a cyber incident, how long is it before I actually realize that I’ve been breached? It may not happen very quickly, it could be very subtle. And things could be manipulated, and suddenly I’m in a situation like some of the big companies that had data hack, where all the sudden personal accounts of cardholders are exposed. Now, what do I do? So there’s a lot of not the only rapid response that’s needed, but a lot of consequence analysis that’s really needed.

LN: Is it?

GS: How do you do that and yet maintain, as you were saying, and begin to look at that.

LN: Yeah.

GS: From, not really a legal standpoint, but, from a defensive standpoint.

LN: Yeah, well there’s a lot that needs to happen in a short period of time, you have the collection and preservation. Which, forensic professionals are often called in, such as myself. To collect the data. Firewalls, servers, logs. Then you also have the analysis of that data to determine, what are the motivations of the attacker? Was it an attacker? Was it negligence? You know, oftentimes things go down, people assume it’s a cyber attack, external. It could be an internal attack, it could just be something as innocent as, I’ve seen a new system coming online that’s supposed to help back up and provide redundancy, actually reformat a storage NAS array, that it was supposed to help protect. So, these things can happen. And quickly understanding, making sure that data doesn’t disappear that could be used to rebuild is important And that’s where bringing in the outsider’s important because someone new coming in doesn’t have skin in the game. And, you really need that objective party, to help you figure out what’s happening.

GS: But I think that in that respect when you bring in someone from outside, they also have a vested interest in making sure that, from not only a reputation standpoint but also from the standpoint of the viability of their services, making sure that they’re helping to alleviate the issue. And to bring back some, equilibrium if you will. So there’s this issue of consequence management that comes to bear on those–

LN: And you have some conflicts that happen with having the people that were, kind of in charge of watching over the equipment, do the investigation. And that can cause some, serious problems to the organization. And it may be very well that, the attack wasn’t the fault of the people responsible for managing it. But, if for instance there was, an action that took place that might show some carelessness or mishandling of events by the people in charge of IT, there’s a real risk there that, that person might take actions that could result in further data destruction. In an effort to cover up, what had happened.

GS: So now in that respect, we need to protect, we need to begin to look at how we manage the data collection post-incident, or during an incident, if you will. There obviously some legal ramifications.

LN: Yeah well whoever does this might have to testify. And that’s another reason why having a third party come in to do this work is important. Because you may want, legal may want to know, “well before we put an expert up to testify in this, “just tell us what happened and how do we respond? “How do we get ahead of this?” If it was a problem with a vendor, you want to know that. Because the clocks ticking. You know from the time a data breach is confirmed, it is a real data breach and known, to the time it has to be reported, oftentimes its thirty days. So there’s not a lot of time, to wait around If your data breached before you get in your expert, your forensic expert to inspect.

GS: Okay, so we’ve got a legal consideration, that has to be looked at. Insurance today has changed in a lot of respects. So, business interruption insurance. Obviously, that’s a critical area because if you want to file a claim–

LN: Yeah you have to report it to the carrier, or even if you have cyber coverage, it might not be covered if you failed to notify the insurance company of the incident.

GS: So, when I look at that aspect and say, “I’ve got a business interruption policy,” you mention cyber. And now I know that there are other writers to those policies. Like for terrorism and things like that today. If I don’t have a cyber writer, which is a contingent business interruption issue, my business interruption insurance may not cover me, on something like that. So it really becomes more incumbent to have one, the knowledge, two, to be able to look at the legal considerations, three, to begin to understand insurance laws, what do I have from a coverage standpoint? Which is where the traditional risk management group comes into play. But IT’s got to coordinate with them, to ensure all that.

LN: Exactly, and I had Todd Rowe on my show, who’s an insurance cyber attorney, that deals with these coverage issues. So, that’s an excellent video to watch that delves into that more. The other things though with incident response, you know you have the potential PR issues that relate to being data breached. So really, you need to assemble your team, your in-house legal, your HR, your media advisor. Preferably you have a PR firm that has dealt with data breaches before. And then, you’ve got to put together a plan. And all this stuff needs to be going on in parallel. So while that’s happening, your internal people are probably trying to work on, getting their disaster recovery systems restored. You might even have an outside IT provider come in and help bring those systems back up online. The workload that happens when a data breach has occurred, is such that it really isn’t pragmatic or practical to try to have internal IT do all the work. And it also isn’t covered by insurance typically. The outside providers will usually be covered, but not the internal people.

GS: So, if from a structural standpoint, and I’ll draw this to the areas that I worked in many years back after some of the events in the energy industry. Oil spills and things like that. Where industries adopted what they called an incident command system. The United States now has the National Incident Management System. So with cyber though, the composition, in terms of that team, is not necessarily the same that we would see in a typical, incident command system as is generally presented. So from a functional standpoint, I think that there are some things that I would look at. One, somebody’s got to be in charge. Two, somebody’s got to look at planning. What’s going on, and future planning, what do we do? Three, operationally, what’s effected what’s not affected? How do we keep it from cascading? Four, a communications perspective. Internal and external. An administrative function, which looks at the financial aspects. An infrastructure function, which again, internal-external infrastructure. And then, the aspect of, you know, bringing this all together as a team. Your HR people, all these other things. So, yeah.

LN: That was an excellent wrap-up Geary. I really appreciate you being on the show. If you liked this video, please share it. And check out the other segments we did as well. Thanks again Geary for being on the show.

GS: Thank you, Lee. Very challenging to present on this topic. So much.

LN: Be safe.

Watch the other segments in our Cyber Insecurity in the Energy Sector Series.

Energy Sector Detection

Energy Sector Protection

Energy Sector Global Cyber Insecurity

Enigma Forensics related video blogs

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Energy Sector Protection

The Energy Sector must protect the electric power grid system, oil, and natural gas infrastructures from the ever changing cybersecurity environment. Enigma Forensics CEO & President, Lee Neubecker and Geary Sikich, Principal at Logical Management Systems, Corp. cover the many steps necessary in detection and protection against any and all threats.

As global unrest heats up, the Energy Sector has to maintain its cool. What is the energy sector? The oil, electric power grid, natural gas refineries, and pipelines are all part of the intricate web of the energy sector. To avoid a disaster they must wrestle with the ever-changing cyber security environment, protect themselves from internal and external threats in all of the energy sector infrastructures all while keeping up with energy demands. That’s a mammoth task! Both experts agree Energy Sector protection can be achieved if approached with precision. Enigma Forensics CEO & President, Lee Neubecker and Geary Sikich, Principal at Logical Management Systems, Corp. cover the many steps necessary in detection and protection against any and all threats.

Part 3 in the four-part series on Energy Sector Cyber Insecurity.

Part 3 in our Global Energy Sector Insecurity

Lee Neubecker: I’m back again with Geary Sikich and we’re continuing our series discussing cyber global insecurity, as it relates to the energy sector. And in this segment, we’re going to talk more about things that can be done to help protect against these cyber threats.

Geary Sikich: So Lee, when we look at protection, I think there’s a three-level process and I think you can describe some of the things that have to go on in these three levels. Strategically, I put together a business plan for an organization and that organization sets goals and objectives, one would be to have cybersecurity. Now, how do I execute that, what are the things that, at the operational and tactical level, the things that really are going to prevent, what are those things, what are those things that are going to help me?

LN: Well, much like we were talking before about detecting compromises, having a solid inventory on what your digital assets are, what computer devices, what cell phones, if you know what your devices are and you have that information available, you’ll be able to spot when something goes wrong. So, part of protecting is doing the bean-counting work of inventorying your digital assets.

GS: So, it’s not just an audit process, it’s a much more of a detailed look at what those assets consist of?

LN: Yeah and once you know what your assets are, you can figure out, who are they assigned to? If someone leaves your organization, you should have accountability steps in place to retrieve those assets. You should also be inventorying the state of those assets, are they fully patched and up-to-date? If you’re not patching your devices, you’re at great risk of cyber compromise.

GS: So is identity, not only do I have to worry about being compromised from an external source but I also have the internal threat of a disgruntled employee, of someone leaving the company, not with any mal, you know, intent, no malicious intent, if you will but just not following up on what I should have done as they out-process.

LN: Exactly, password rotations, people have weak passwords, people become compromised, people reuse their passwords. As someone reused their password for one of your important infrastructure systems on a popular social media site and that site becomes compromised, guess what, those passwords get loaded up into software for hacking and they do what’s known as “credential-stuffing attack”, they loop through and they fire at every device they can using the username and password, the known username and password and that’s how a lot of people fall prey to attacks.

GS: So, in that context, should you store passwords via one of them, like Google Chrome or some of the other, Internet Explorer, those types of things, should you store passwords that way?

LN: I recommend against storing it in your browser. If you’re going to store them somewhere, I think a password management tool like LastPass, that has two-factor capabilities, two-factor authentication essentially means that you have to know your, it’s something you know, plus something you have or something you are and in the case of LastPass, you’re typically using either your cell phone with an app that has an authenticator, that’s something you have, plus your master password and that helps protect against someone intercepting your password and being able to log on.

GS: So, in essence, protection is not a simplified process, protection is something that we have to, sort of, dedicate ourselves to conscientiously and make sure that we continue to maintain an up-to-date awareness, in order to be able to fully protect ourselves.

LN: Exactly and that brings in your staff, you need to know that your staff are being educated about popular ways that companies become compromised like if a bunch of USB devices are dropped in the parking lot, they might say things like “payroll” or something on it, would your employees plug that into your computer, you know, are you testing for that? You know, there are things you can do, there are services out there where you can have your own organization spearfished by a white-hat hacker, that’s going to tell you who clicked and then you know who you need to educate.

GS: So, we’ve made two points thus far on protection. One is that it needs to be part of the business plan, it has to be audited. In terms of auditing, knowing what you have devices-wise. Second is that you have to have educated employees. Now, both of those aspects present somewhat of a business conundrum, if you will. Education doesn’t necessarily equate to dollars coming in but from a protection standpoint, I think the sales point would be that it prevents dollars going out and the better educated, the more aware so that we can look at the other aspects that we discussed, detecting and protecting being two.

LN: Unfortunately, if you run an organization today, you have a new job, which is to make sure that you’re cyber secure and it’s a serious threat that corporate boards are making their CEOs accountable for so you know and it’s multi-faceted, you got to train your employees, you got to nail what you have, you got to make sure what you have is up-to-date and patched and then you also need to make sure that you have some mechanism to monitor and record events so that you can tell if you become compromised so the protection really requires much more today than it used to, it’s, the number of ways that an organization can become compromised, can be via an employee’s cell phone that becomes compromised and then it launches an attack on your internal systems.

GS: So, in the, it’s kind of like the mindset, if you will, has to be changed, in terms of looking at management and their commitment to cybersecurity protection. In the days past, we looked at protection. “What can I do, put up a wall, what can I do, “I can physically protect my facilities and my operation.” Now, today, that becomes more of a challenge because we’re dependent more on things that are not necessarily in the realm of physical protection per se so we really have to be getting to rethink how we look at protection and then ensure that the process is continuous, not a one-time situation.

LN: Exactly and certainly, you know, a DR, known as disaster-recovery planning and contingency planning can go a long way, you know, a simple act of making an offline backup on a periodic basis and you know, maybe that’s only once a month for some organizations but at least, if you have something offline, if you get hit by a Cryptolocker attack, the risk comes down to “well, what does it cost “for us to rebuild the last month?” Or maybe it’s the last week or maybe it’s last night so thinking through, I think going through the disaster-recovery planning exercise is a really good way to help protect your organization.

GS: Okay, I agree with you on the planning aspect. The caution I would say with that is that all too often, organizations develop disaster-recovery, business continuity, other types of plans to deal with emergencies, the response. The challenge is that those plans need to be kept, as you did say, with the cyber up-to-date and consistently reviewed, we have to have it in the mental work.

LN: And that’s where having someone like you and myself come into audit the business risk and actually inspect to see is the plan being followed, is the C-suite having a false sense of security because there’s this plan that was produced years ago, that no one’s really looked into, you know, it doesn’t take but you know, I think, you and I onsite for one day, we could help poke holes and give a report of, is an organization following their plan or does it look like everything’s far off but you’re not going to get that reporting from your own people internally.

GS: Yeah, I think it’s a challenge for people internally because there’s a vested interest, number one. Number two, they think that, in a lot of respects, they’ve done what needs to get done. The other aspect and I think this is important from what you pointed out, is that when you begin to look at today’s plans, you have to realize, they’re kind of reactive, in many respects, they’re not very proactive so they react to an event happening. That’s good because that helps companies become more resilient but it doesn’t keep them from protecting themselves as they need to.

LN: Exactly but there’s also a financial component to these plans, you know, it’s not uncommon that IT, they’ll go through this exercise and then afterwards, they’ll say “well, I need this subscription, this software, “I need this vendor” and none of that funding comes through but it’s much better and that sometimes gets lost in the minutiae from planning to execution and if that, in fact, is happening, you’ll want to know about it before you need the DR and it’s not there.

LN: So, I think that wraps up our section on protection. In our next segment, we’ll be talking a little bit more about responding to the crisis of a cyber breach, as it relates to the energy sector.

Watch the other segments on Cyber Insecurity in the Energy Sector

Part 1 – Global Energy Sector: Insecurity

Part 1 Global Energy Sector Insecurity

Part 2 – Energy Sector: Intrusion Detection

Part 2 Energy Sector: Intrusion Detection

Watch other related video segments

Energy Sector and Cyber Readiness

To learn more read this government report about Cybersecurity for the Energy Sector delivery system

https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R44939

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Energy Sector: Intrusion Detection

After the most recent Iranian attacks most people don’t think about the danger to our Energy Sector that lurks in the global underworld. Cyber Security Experts Lee Neubecker and Geary Sikich are on the job! They say we can tighten our security and detect cyber attacks before they happen.

Energy Sector Intrusion Detection is complicated and delicate and necessary to maintain our power grid. The Energy Sector provides energy for the world and must be secured and protected. Many detection tools and resources of expert precision are used to ensure the security of these precious resources. Think about it? What do you do on a daily basis that doesn’t involve energy or some type of energy? Enigma Forensics CEO & President, Lee Neubecker and Geary Sikich, Principal at Logical Management Systems, Corp. put your mind at ease and dissect cyber security and intrusion detection systems that are utilized by the Energy Sector.

This is Part 2 in the four-part series on Energy Sector Cyber Insecurity.

Lee Neubecker (LN): Hi, I’m back on the show again with Geary Sikich, thanks for coming back on the show.

Geary Sikich (GS): Thanks for having me back Lee.

LN: So we’re continuing our series discussing about global cyber insecurity as it relates to energy sector. In the second part of the series we’re talking more about detection of compromise. Um Geary, what’re your thoughts in this area?

GS: I believe that there’s a lot to be looked at in terms of the detection aspect, and this is one of the areas where you from a forensic standpoint, provide sort of a critical juncture, what’re you seeing that the general person, and even the general employee of the utility, might not be seeing? And might not be aware of?

LN: Well we know from reports by Dragos Cyber Security firm, that there’s a number of groups, I think around 11 groups are specifically targeting the energy sector. This report just came out this month, so there is a heightened attack readiness requirement to defend against these attacks. And the key thing that organizations need to be doing is they need to know that they have their firewall actively logging, and they need to be looking at those logs.

GS: Those are all state sponsored groups, right?

LN: Well, we don’t know exactly who they are, there could be terrorist cells, the Dragos report doesn’t give attribution as to the entities behind them. They describe the types of attacks, and the character of the attack methods, but there is a number of them that you can check out, there’s a link that will take you to their report if you’re interested in reading it. But you know, often times organizations fall compromised, and they don’t know it, and these things go on for a long time. There was a credit reporting agency attacked recently, for instance.

GS: So from a detection standpoint, the challenge that industries are faced with, cause our focus is going to be on the energy industry, so we’ll get energy industry. In general, the challenge that they face then, is that it’s not just what we perceive could be state sponsored hacking of their systems, it could be individuals, it could be terrorist cells, it could be pretty much anyone with a desire to infiltrate a system whether it’s to do harm, or whether it’s just to see if they can do it

LN: Exactly. The barrier to entry to launching one of these attacks is much lower. It requires knowledge, but the knowledge could be in the head of a teenager, that got rejected at school and wants to take the power out in his town. So that’s a legitimate problem. Now related to detection, I mentioned the firewall logs, there’s a great product out there called, Canary. Have you heard of it?

GS: No, it’s new to me.

LN: Essentially, it’s a company they tell these little devices, you deploy in your network, and they can pretend to be a payroll mass, health care information system storage database, or you can make it be whatever you want. But it’s essentially trying to lure an attacker. So if someone’s in your network, there going to scan your network to look for resources and it will detect people trying to brute force that item. So these items are a great way to have another way of knowing are you compromised. If organizations that had recently been publicly compromised, that didn’t know it for many years had some of these devices in place, they would probably know pretty quickly, like within a day or so, of someone getting through their firewall.

GS: So the challenge then I guess, from a detection standpoint, and the way we’ve seen it, and in discussions with organizations that I’ve worked with. Is that it’s not a single point of penetration that we have to worry about, it’s become multiple points of penetration, and multiple points that are not necessarily hard wired into the operating system. So utilities in a lot of respects have gone out to do with their status systems, monitoring your water usage, or electric usage, all remotely, and you periodically might see a utility vehicle drive by, and they may have a cellular type phone system, that goes by and scans your homes to see what your energy usage is. So those all become a factor. We get into detection in terms of things, we’ve mentioned today shipping is a big issue, and we mentioned with the current situation with Iran, the concern over the Strait of Hormuz, but shipping in general, navigation systems, have been targeted, not only by state actors, but by other groups. So you have navigation systems which is not just water born shipping. Think of where navigation systems are today. Look into your pocket and see your cell phone.

LN: Well we had the recent issue with the Boeing Max airplane, it turned out the sensors were damaged. Well these sensors they’re called MEMS sensors, they’re a combination of electro-mechanical sensors, and if the chip is hit at the frequency that matches the natural frequency of the component board, it can actually cause the chip to malfunction and report erroneous readings temporarily. Or if the frequency matches and it’s of a great enough amplitude it can actually damage the chip. And there hasn’t been much discussions about whether these chips were cyber-attacked but it’s very possible, if you look up University of Michigan, they have research on MEMS chip sensors and interestingly enough, the patent for these sensors was a Boeing patent. So there’s not a lot of talk about that and I think more likely if the chips were damaged, it’s more likely they were damaged while they were on the ground interestingly enough, the two crashes that occurred were in countries that had a lot of terrorist activity.

GS: I think the other aspect with detection is that when you begin to bring out a point like that, people have a tendency to assume durability of systems when systems can be very sensitive to, if you will, shocks, minor shocks to the system. So it’s not necessarily the physical attack, you could take the example recently Puerto Rico has had an earthquake. What damages were incurred by the, on their systems as a result? That are undetected yet. The sensitivity of systems I think has become really critical in a lot of these aspects.

LN: But like with these chips we’re blending mechanical with computer embedded processors. So like these chips think of an opera singer, that sings the natural frequency of a wine glass. If he sings it loud enough, that glass will shatter. It’s the same concept with this chip. You can fire sound at it, if you’re close enough, or if you have a strong enough amplifier, you could fry it. Now that could happen, a drone could potentially launch a sonic attack, someone onboard, a passenger could do it, cleaning crew coming through could do it. So these are some questions that it’s kind of a new paradigm but we even had issues with military aircraft having this uptick in crashes, and these same types of systems are in the newer military helicopters and planes and whatnot. So I think it was good that the military grounded some of these devices that were having these problems, And you know the investigation, I’m sure, continues and the public may not fully be briefed on this, but it is a threat that needs to be detected before people die.

GS: So the real issue with the situation that we’re in, with this kind of global insecurity if you will, is our ability to detect has been I’ll put it in these terms, if our ability to detect has been compromised by virtue of the disruptive technologies that exist that are making detections more and more of a challenge, because they’re becoming more and more subtle in how they entered in the system. So I can have a system that looks like it’s working perfectly, and yet at a point be compromised like the mechanical system that’s supposed to open a valve, and it’s been doing it for a long time, and then suddenly it either leaves it open, or completely shuts it.

LN: This is where it’s important that these entities have an accurate inventory of what their equipment is, and they also have an accurate inventory of the embedded systems and what that software code should look like. And they should have procedures in place to periodically verify that the embedded firmware chips that do these functions haven’t been altered. Otherwise they won’t even know, and something could happen at a very critical time. So that wraps up our section on detection. In our next segment will be talking about helping to protect against these types of attacks.

GS: Great.

Watch the other segments on Cyber Insecurity in the Energy Sector

Part one of our four-part series on Energy Sector Cyber Insecurity

Learn more about cyber security and data breach from Enigma Forensics.

Check out the government’s directives on cybersecurity as it relates to energy infrastructure.

https://www.energy.gov/ceser/activities/cybersecurity-critical-energy-infrastructure

Check out what ComEd is doing.

https://www.comed.com/SiteCollectionDocuments/SmartEnergy/SmartGridAndDataSecurity.pdf

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