According to internal documents from a cybersecurity company, hackers with North Korean links tried to recently gain access to U.S. electricity companies using spearphishing emails. A new NBC News report shows that the hackers sent fake fundraiser invitations to their targets – employees at utility companies. If the victim downloaded the invitation, they were also downloading malware onto their computers that would potentially be giving the hackers a window into the company’s cybersecurity systems. The report, which was based off information relayed to private clients by the IT security company FireEye, said that while the hacking attempts were not successful, they were likely related to the growing hostilities developing between the U.S. and North Korea.
NBC News spoke with former FBI counterintelligence chief C. Frank Figliuzzi, who said, “This is a signal that North Korea is a player in the cyber-intrusion field and it is growing in its ability to hurt us.”
In the meantime, a trade group for the energy industry – Edison Electric Institute – sent out a statement assuring Americans that the energy grid was not particularly susceptible to foreign hacking attacks like the one detailed by FireEye.
“Phishing attacks are something that electric companies prepare for and deal with on a regular basis, often in coordination with security experts and industry stakeholders,” said the statement. “In this case, the delivery of safe and reliable energy has not been affected, and there has been no operational impact to facilities or to the systems controlling the North American energy grid.”
Nevertheless, this is far from the first time North Korean hackers have been suspected of conducting major cyberattacks on global interests. Their 2014 hack of Sony Pictures cost the studio hundreds of millions of dollars and led to the theatrical cancellation of “The Interview,” a comedy in which Seth Rogen and James Franco assassinate Kim Jong Un as part of a secret CIA plot. And the reclusive nation is alleged to have been behind the “WannaCry” virus that hit computers and organizations around the world earlier this year – a malware attack that locked PCs unless the owners paid a ransom to the perpetrators.
North Korea’s threat to the energy grid is not limited to their cyber-intrusive capabilities, of course. National security analysts have said that Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons could result in not only a massive loss of immediate life but a secondary EMP strike that would take much of the U.S. off the power grid for weeks or months. That secondary effect could actually result in civil unrest and widespread chaos, leading to many more deaths than the fireball itself.
All the more reason to hope that President Trump’s administration can bring this rogue regime to heel before tensions spill over into an extremely nasty confrontation.