The Brookings Institute discusses how the US has not yet seen the worst of Russian cyber attacks, thus far only having dealt with bots, trolls, and propaganda rather than crippling critical infrastructure:

In the West, Russia’s cyberattacks so far have been at the service of its disinformation operations: stolen data used to embarrass individuals, spin a narrative, discredit democratic institutions and values, and sow social discord. This was the pattern Russian operators followed in the United States, France, and Germany during the countries’ 2016–17 elections. Hacking email accounts of individuals or campaigns, leaking that stolen information using a proxy (primarily WikiLeaks), and then deploying an army of disinformation agents (bots, trolls, state controlled media) to disseminate and amplify a politically damaging narrative. Such cyber-enabled interference falls below the threshold of critical infrastructure attacks of significant consequence that could result in “loss of life, significant destruction of property, or significant impact on [national security interests].”

The nightmare of cyberattacks crippling critical infrastructure systems still has the sound of science fiction to most Americans. But in Ukraine, this nightmare is real. As the laboratory for Russian activities, Ukraine has seen a significant uptick in attacks on its critical infrastructure systems since the 2013–14 Maidan revolution. A barrage of malware, denial of service attacks, and phishing campaigns bombard Ukraine’s critical infrastructure environments on a daily basis. In December 2015, a well-planned and sophisticated attack on Ukraine’s electrical grid targeted power distribution centers and left 230,000 residents without power the day before Christmas. The attackers were able to override operators’ password access to the system and also disable backup generators.

Ukraine is all too familiar with Russian attacks against critical infrastructure. For a while it almost appeared as if Ukraine was some kind of testbed or cyber range of sorts for Russia to try and perfect its attack capabilities against electric power plants and substations.

Imagine the chaos a debilitating critical infrastructure attack would have on the US population. There has been a lot of news lately about Russia being embedded in the US power networks. This is no longer an “if it is possible” scenario, but rather “when will it occur”.

As technology has advanced as a swift pace, and as it has been adopted in almost every industry, there remain many area where that adoption is downright dangerous. Critical infrastructure remains the scariest area of cyber security as airplanes, power grids, and hospitals have some of the most problematic security in any sector (emphasis added):

Examples of this longstanding problem are abundant. Late last year, it was discovered that malware known as BlackEnergy had been targeting industrial control systems — specifically, human-machine interface (HMI) products — of companies in the utilities sector and installing backdoors beginning in 2011. Despite an advisory from the Department of Homeland Security’s Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT), patches were slow to be created, taking months, and some were not available until recently.

This is concerning. But more concerning is the fact that it will be many more months or even years before most companies apply these patches to their systems, if they do at all. This is just a reflection of the fact that industrial systems have never been designed for the constant updates and patches that the modern world requires to continually secure systems.

Perhaps the best example of how far these systems lag behind modern security requirements is the fact that none of the widely used industrial control protocols even support authentication, let alone encryption. This all ultimately means that once attackers are in a network, they can remain in systems for years, as illustrated by the BlackEnergy campaign. It would be simple for attackers to remotely execute commands to massively disrupt critical organizations such as energy providers once already in the network.

Healthcare organizations are also a prime target. With the industry’s wide and comparatively open infrastructure, new connected devices are constantly bridging the gap for attackers to infiltrate secure networks. Even when integrated into healthcare industry-standard security suites, these devices are still the source of attacks and where attackers pivot to compromise healthcare systems.

The IT staff at hospitals have no insight into what software is actually running on medical equipment. Understandably, the equipment manufacturers do not want unintended changes made to the configurations of these devices. But this essentially results in opaque devices, which customers are unable to verify while manufacturers label them as “fully secure.” In reality, the only reason these devices are still considered secure is the fact that no one has tried to compromise them. Yet.

Airplanes are a great example of this last point. Until recently, the average person would not even consider that “hacking” an airplane was possible. Yet, when Chris Roberts ended up in the news for making a plane fly sideways (or so the FBI seems to claim), security researchers began to examine all the ways someone might actually be able to interface with aircraft systems.

Airplanes increasingly have satellite or cellular communications links to the ground, and there is a rapidly growing trend of airlines offering some form of in-flight Wi-Fi, whether for access to the Internet or general in-flight entertainment systems. While it remains to be seen whether any of those communications paths could actually result in a successful attack on critical flight systems, they are all possible attack vectors that did not exist even a few years ago.

Moreover, almost all of the avionics systems connected in these communications paths run a combination of off-the-shelf and proprietary software. Like industrial or medical systems, patches are rarely made available and, when they are, it can take months or years until they are applied. It is only a matter of time until we start finding malware at 30,000 feet.

So what can we do to avoid and overcome these problems as devices, gateways and software solutions permeate older infrastructures and become avenues for attack?

There is a lot of work left to do.