Israel: Panic As Ransomware Cyberattack ‘Cripples’ Electricity Grid

Panic occurred when Israel’s Electricity Authority was targeted by a ransomware cyberattack, paralyzing some of their computers for more than two days. This led to fears that the electrical grid in Israel had been hacked and taken down.

However according to the Jerusalem Post, the electricity network in Israel did not actually go down, but they did report an incident did occur during two consecutive days of below freezing weather and record-breaking electricity consumption. The Israel Electric Corporation reported a demand of 12,610 megawatts on Tuesday evening alone.

The cyberattack was reported by Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of infrastructure, energy and water, on January 26. At the CyberTech 2016 security conference in Tel Aviv, Steinitz told the attendees that Israel’s Electricity Authority had been hit by a severe cyberattack on January 25.

“Yesterday we identified one of the largest cyberattacks that we have experienced. The virus was already identified and the right software was already prepared to neutralize it.”

Steinitz went on to explain that they had to paralyze many of the computers belonging to the Israeli electricity authorities, but that everything should soon be working as it should.

“We are handling the situation and I hope that soon, this very serious event will be over… but as of now, computer systems are still not working as they should.”

The Times of Israel added that Steinitz stressed the country needs cybertech to prevent such attacks in the future, saying cyberattacks on infrastructure can “paralyze power stations and the whole energy supply chain from natural gas, oil and petrol to water systems and can additionally cause fatalities.”

Steinitz said terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Qaeda and Daesh have realized the enormous damage they can cause in a cyberattack against nations.

Steinitz’s remarks at the security conference have sparked concern that the Israeli electricity grid had been taken offline. There were reports in the local media that a spokesperson for an Electricity Authority had said some computers on the network were taken offline to prevent malware from reaching them.

From there on, the story grew, with reports in the international media saying the electricity grid in Israel had been crippled by hackers, forcing parts of the grid to shut down.

According to Eyal Sela, an Israeli cybersecurity analyst, the entire incident was blown out of proportion and was smaller than previously reported.

It turns out the Israel Electricity Authority is merely a regulatory body with only 30 employees, and reportedly the incident occurred when one employee fell for an email phishing attack by opening a suspicious email attachment.

As reported by the International Business Times, ransomware is a particularly nasty type of malware that has been known to lock affected computers and usually threatens to delete all data on the computers unless the user pays a ransom in Bitcoin or other electronic funds.

In this case, it is believed that, after the employee opened the attachment, the ransomware spread through the network, thereby infecting multiple computers, leading the Israel Electricity Authority to take down some of the computers for a couple of days as a safety measure to avoid them being infected.

Looking at the fact that an employee had opened the infected email attachment, some government sources are reportedly saying it is unbelievable that the Electricity Authority’s computer system was not properly protected against just this type of incident.

[Photo via Flickr by Nayu Kim/CC BY 2.0]

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