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European Electrical Energy Organization Discloses Breach

The European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E) revealed this week that malicious actors breached its corporate network.

ENTSO-E represents 42 electricity transmission system operators (TSOs) from 35 countries in Europe. TSOs are responsible for the transmission of electric power across the main high-voltage networks, and ENTSO-E works with them on the implementation of energy policies and achieving Europe’s energy and climate policy objectives.

“A risk assessment has been performed and contingency plans are now in place to reduce the risk and impact of any further attacks,” the organization said in a brief statement. “Our TSO members have been informed and we continue to monitor and assess the situation.”

ENTSO-E highlighted that the affected office network is not connected to any operational TSO system.

Some of the affected TSOs have released statements regarding the incident. Norway’s Statnett, Finland’s Fingrid and Switzerland’s Swissgrid all said there was no indication that their own systems had been compromised.

Fingrid said the incident only impacts file exchange policies between the organization and ENTSO-E. However, as a result of the attack, Fingrid said there would be some delays in issuing energy identification codes to electricity suppliers and producers.

“This is a strategic move by the adversary to focus on a centralized target in order to impact multiple European electrical grids at the same time,” Phil Neray, VP of IoT & industrial cybersecurity at CyberX, told SecurityWeek. “Compromising IT networks is simply the first step in gaining access to OT control networks. And the current coronavirus crisis compounds the issue by causing a shortage of people to spot these intrusions, highlighting the need for more automated approaches to immediately identify anomalous or unauthorized behavior in the network so attacks can quickly be mitigated before affecting the safety of wide populations.”

Industrial cybersecurity firm Dragos pointed out that the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (NMPRC) was also recently targeted in a cyberattack. The NMPRC is a state regulatory body for the utilities, telecom and motor carrier sectors, and it keeps records of technical information on power plants and other utilities.

“The intrusions at ENTSO-E and NMPRC do not appear to be related but demonstrate the potential for adversaries to target such organizations to further attack objectives on the electric utilities or energy organizations working with the target companies. These intrusions – both in Europe and the U.S. – impact organizations that do not manage or control any industrial assets but are linked to various ICS entities for regulatory or similar reasons. Based on this connection, a successful intrusion at one of the victim entities could be leveraged to facilitate follow-on access or exploitation at supported utility organizations,” Dragos warned.

The company added, “An attacker may access these organizations to harvest sensitive information about supported entities. This may facilitate information gathering and target development operations while avoiding any direct access to the victims. As a result, the attacker would effectively expose information from several organizations at the same time through a single intrusion.”

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.