Hackers Attack When Communities Are Most Vulnerable

When natural disasters strike — hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, floods — communities are at their most vulnerable. People are alarmed and distracted. Sadly, cyber criminals see the opportunity in the chaos. They take advantage of the confusion to create more havoc by targeting physical infrastructure like electric grids, fuel pipelines and water systems with ransomware attacks.

Increasingly, when natural disasters happen, the number of cyber attacks immediately spikes. Indeed, many cyber events are now directly linked to physical events. For example, states like Louisiana and Florida routinely see an exponential rise in cyber attacks following hurricanes.

But the government and business are fighting back. They’re organizing cybersecurity efforts like Operation Homeland Defender, a drill at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Indiana, to test preparedness and bolster defenses. The most recent event this summer included the Indiana National Guard, local first responders, Indiana Task Force One and others.

Muscatatuck is the Department of Defense’s largest urban training facility. It is a “real” city that includes a built physical infrastructure, including a water distribution and pump station with multiple active supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, 3G and 4G meshed networks, IoT testing grounds, a hospital, and even a U.S. “embassy.” It is an ideal place to run realistic training and testing scenarios in the event of a cyber event and see firsthand how defenses hold up. It’s a war games facility built for the modern era of cyber attacks, blending both physical and cyber into a common realm.

The Operation Homeland Defender drill involved a simulated earthquake followed by a cyber attack, with hackers swooping in amid the chaos. Specifically, the bad guys attacked the water system and tried to shut it down as the National Guard deployed its defense tools to protect networks, people and property.

During any natural disaster, there will be network outages and various other disruptions. Most will be the result of physical damage. But others may be caused by opportunistic…