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This Week’s Security News: Attackers Continue to Target the US Electric Grid

In addition, Chinese hackers stole US Covid relief funds, there was a cyberattack on the Met Opera website, and more.

We have written extensively about the threat that cyberattacks pose to global power grids. However, recent major attacks on electrical systems have demonstrated that hacking is rarely necessary when physical destruction and sabotage are available: Just as Russia’s invasion force in Ukraine has systematically destroyed electrical infrastructure, causing widespread blackouts, a mysterious and ongoing series of physical attacks have targeted power utilities in the American southeast, causing an extended outage for tens of thousands of people in one case.

We’ll get there. Meanwhile, the cyber news we’ve been covering hasn’t slowed down this week: Apple added end-to-end encryption to its iCloud backups while also officially abandoning its plan to search iCloud for child sexual abuse materials and reopening a long-running feud with the FBI. Sequoia, a payroll and human resources services provider, admitted to a data breach that included users’ Social Security numbers. Scammers scamming scammers, according to a study of cybercrime forums. In addition, we examined how the Twitter Files will fuel conspiracy theorists, how technology is assisting UK authorities in creating a “hostile environment” for immigrants, and security and privacy concerns surrounding the Lensa AI portrait app.

But wait, there’s more. Each week, we highlight security news that we did not cover in depth. To read the full stories, click on the headlines below.

In the last three months, physical attacks have targeted the US grid in at least four states

When shootings at two electrical substations in North Carolina knocked out power for 40,000 customers for several days, the incident appeared to be an isolated—if bizarre and troubling—case. However, the same utility, Duke Energy, reported gunfire at another facility, a hydroelectric power plant in South Carolina, earlier this week. And, when combined with two additional incidents of hands-on sabotage of US power facilities in Oregon and Washington in October and November, the vulnerability of the US grid to old-fashioned physical harm has begun to appear as a serious threat.

There appears to have been no damage in the South Carolina case, and the utilities involved in the earlier incidents in Washington described the incidents as “vandalism.” According to the Oregon utility, the intruders in Oregon carried out a more deliberate attack, cutting through a perimeter fence and damaging equipment, causing a “brief” power outage in one case. In a separate set of incidents, Duke Energy experienced half a dozen “intrusions” at Florida substations, according to documents obtained by Newsnation. The cases are being investigated by federal authorities.

The incidents resemble another strange, isolated attack on the California power grid in 2015, when a sniper fired on an electrical substation, causing a blackout in parts of Silicon Valley and causing $15 million in damage. While still on a small scale, these newer cases demonstrate how disturbingly vulnerable the American power grid remains to relatively simple forms of sabotage.

Chinese hackers stole funds from the US Covid Relief Fund

APT41, a state-sponsored Chinese hacker group, has long engaged in a rare blend of cyberespionage and cybercrime. The group has been accused of moonlighting as for-profit thieves and even deploying ransomware in a 2020 US indictment linked to a company called Chengdu 404 working as a contractor for China’s Ministry of State Security. According to NBC News, the Secret Service believes APT41 stole $20 million from US Covid relief funds—state-sponsored hackers stealing money from the US government itself. According to reports, approximately half of the stolen funds were recovered. However, a hacker group on the Chinese government’s payroll stealing from US federal coffers is a far more audacious form of red-line crossing than APT41’s previous exploits.

The Metropolitan Opera’s website in New York has been hacked

The Metropolitan Opera announced earlier this week that it was the victim of an ongoing cyberattack that brought its website and online ticketing system down. Given that the Met Opera sells $200,000 in tickets per day, the disruption’s losses could be devastating to one of New York’s most important cultural institutions. The website was still down as of Friday afternoon, and ticket sales had been moved to a new site. The New York Times noted in its coverage of the attack that the Met Opera had been critical of Russia’s war in Ukraine, even parting ways with its Russian soprano singer, but there is still no clear explanation for the attack.

Hackers with ties to Iran target Israeli diamond industry software

ESET, a cybersecurity firm, this week blamed a campaign of data-destroying malware attacks on the diamond industry on a hacker group called Agrius, which has previously been linked to the Iranian government. In March of this year, the attackers used the software updates of an Israeli-made diamond industry software suite to deploy the wiper malware known as Fantasy, which ESET calls Fantasy. As a result, it hit targets all over the world, including a mining operation in South Africa and a jeweler in Hong Kong. Although Iranian cyberattacks on Israeli targets are nothing new, ESET’s researchers’ writeup makes no assumptions about the attack’s motivation.

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The article above was written by the BestTopReviewsOnline team, which includes many of the US’s most knowledgeable technical experts. Our team includes well-known writers with extensive experience in mobile phones, computing, technology, photography, and other fields.

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