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How to Survive a Russian Cyber Attack

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It’s no secret that Russia loves to meddle, but their latest efforts just upped the ante in a major way…

In a joint alert released on March 15, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI formally accused Russia of attempting to hack into the U.S. energy infrastructure systems.

About a year ago, media outlets reported that Russia had hacked into U.S. utility companies. However, this story didn’t gain widespread attention because there was little information on how the hacking was executed.

This year, U.S. officials seem to have a better idea of what’s happening. From the alert (emphasis mine):

This alert provides information on Russian government actions targeting U.S. Government entities as well as organizations in the energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation and critical manufacturing sectors… DHS and FBI characterize this activity as a multistage intrusion campaign by Russian government cyber actors who targeted small commercial facilities’ networks where they staged malware, conducted spear phishing and gained remote access into energy sector networks. After obtaining access, the Russian government cyber actors conducted network reconnaissance, moved laterally and collected information pertaining to Industrial Control Systems (ICS).

Basically, Russian hackers are targeting third-party companies that are vendors or suppliers for their main targets. Typically, these third-party companies have less secure networks compared with the target energy companies.

In other words, hackers aim to infect these third-party networks with malware to gain information on and access to the larger companies’ systems. This is what’s called a watering hole attack. Once the third-party’s system has been infected, hackers can easily gain access to their intended target since that target trusts the third party.

The fact is we now know unequivocally that Russia has attempted to hack U.S. energy infrastructure — and that they meddled with U.S. elections in 2016 — which has led President Trump to impose new sanctions on Russia.

Of course, Russian officials deny everything and claim the new sanctions are “purely tied to the internal American infighting.”

When the Lights Go Out

Considering how dangerous an attack on U.S. utility infrastructure would be, Americans need to be prepared. In a perfect world, utility companies (and our government) would always be one step ahead of hackers. However, we can’t always depend on others to protect us — which is why we need to be prepared if we lose any utilities.

Of course, hackers aren’t the only entity that can disrupt utilities. Natural disasters, human error and aging infrastructure can also lead to large-scale outages. To prepare for a prolonged interruption to critical systems, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Know your house. One aspect of survival that’s often overlooked is knowing how to shut off utilities to your home. If a natural disaster occurs and you have to shut off the gas, water or electricity to your home, do you know how to do so quickly and safely? On a similar note, with the way our homes are integrated with technology these days, would you be able to control your home if your utility company’s network failed or was hacked?

Food and water storage. This is one of the most critical things you need to survive any type of disaster or loss of basic utilities. The human body needs food and water to live so there is no getting around these needs. Ideally, you should store 30 days’ worth of food and water for your entire family. Don’t forget a small propane cooking stove (and ample fuel) to heat your food.

Sanitation. Another overlooked element of our everyday lives is sanitation. It may not be the first thing you think about when it comes to survival, but it’s a vital component of preparation. In the short term, you can get by using your toilet — even if you have to flush manually. Over an extended period, you need to have an alternative. One option is to purchase camping toilets. At the very least, you can create a bucket system. If you plan to use buckets, make sure to stock a few bags of cat litter to help reduce the odor.

Communication. If the utilities get shut down and we go back to the Stone Age, you need to have a way to communicate with friends and family. In preparing for a crisis situation, communication is often an afterthought because it’s not “sexy” like guns and ammunition. But when your cellphone and internet don’t work, you’ll wish you had some two-way radios. The brand I recommend (and own) is Baofeng, which is fairly inexpensive.

Backup power. I have a propane generator I can use if the utilities in my area go down. I like propane because you can store it indefinitely (unlike gas). You can safely store it in your garage even during the heat of summer or the cold of winter. A solar-powered generator is also a good option. Just be sure to set up a battery bank so you can run your home off the battery-stored power when the sun isn’t out.

Unfortunately, critical infrastructure will continue to be a target for hackers all over the world who want to destroy our way of life. Even if they never succeed, Mother Nature has ways of disrupting these systems as well.

The bottom line? Be prepared.

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