Ukrainian power systems disabled by cyber attack

Hackers allegedly linked to Russian security services were  reportedly behind attacks on the Ukrainian power grid that caused black outs in the capital region and throughout western Ukraine. According to officials that have analyzed samples of BlackEnergy, the code used in the attacks, control systems used to “coordinate remote substations were disabled” in the attack. A lone US cyber-intelligence firm claimed that there are “similarities” between the code used to infiltrate US and EU power in 2013. The latter of these attacks has also been attributed to Russia, although its culpability has not been definitively proven.

The are significant irrespective of who carried them out, as they are the first of their kind to disable power infrastructure. Cyber-security experts throughout the world have warned for years that critical infrastructure is often protected by outdated and inadequate security systems that make them particularly vulnerable to cyber attack. Additional attacks launched with BlackEnergy code have reportedly also been launched against Ukrainian energy companies.

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News Briefs:

  • Iran is reportedly looking to its northern neighborhood as a possible destination for its immense and largely untapped natural gas reserves. The managing director of the National Iranian Gas Export Company recently stated that Tehran intends to supply Georgia with between 8.5 and 14 million cubic meters of gas per day, if a contract between the two countries “makes economic sense.” Tbilisi, for its part, indicated that it will consider “all options” despite its continued reliance on neighboring Azerbaijan for natural gas, in order to secure energy security and diversify its energy supply.
  • Eurasia Net has published an interesting piece in which it alleges Russia seeks to “drive [a] wedge into Central Asia.” The thrust of the piece is based on a statement made by an official from Gazprom, whose role in creating tension between Turkmen and Uzbek officials is crucial.  Russia recently announced that it would cease all purchases of Turkmen natural gas at around the same time that it announced that it would increase purchases from rival Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have both been reluctant to draw closer to Russia, but Uzbekistan, unlike Turkmenistan, has green-lit E&P efforts led by Russia’s Lukoil, whereas Turkmenistan has never allowed Russian companies to develop its natural gas field. Viewed in this light, it seems feasible that Russia’s decision to stop purchasing Turkmen gas is designed to put pressure on Ashgabat. The effectiveness of this decision is somewhat uncertain, however, as Turkmenistan’s primary client is China and it is actively looking to diversify its supply base, including India and Pakistan.
  • Ukrainian national oil and gas company Naftogaz Ukrainy has contracted US-based law firm Covington & Burling LLP to defend its interests in ongoing court battles stemming from lost “shelf assets” in Crimea. A statement released by the firm noted that it would assist in settling disputes related to Crimea including disputes over internal seawaters and the territorial sea of Ukraine around the Crimean Peninsula. Covington & Burling is a multinational law firm that deals primarily with international litigation and regulatory matters. The deal between Naftogaz and the law firm is valued at around $1.25 million.
  • A Finnish university has published a new study on the renewable energy potential of Russia and Central Asia. While the study notes that neither Russia nor relatively wealthy Central Asian states like Kazakhstan possess the “political will” to pivot dramatically towards renewables, the study indicates that renewables infrastructure would reduce the cost of current nuclear and coal-powered infrastructure by nearly half, specifically if carbon capture and storage infrastructure were necessary in either country. The estimate is based on the availability wind, hydropower, biomass, solar and geothermal sources throughout the region, with wind supplying around half of the power. The authors of the study refer to the region as a whole as one of the most potentially competitive markets for renewable energy infrastructure development should political support for such efforts increase.





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