Rodents of mass destruction

In a month where Russian hacking was top of the agenda, one US-based security strategist has released research to counter what he describes as “ludicrous” claims surrounding cyberwarfare. His findings? Squirrels are the real threat.

Cris Thomas has collated all publicly known instances of power outage in the US since 1987 and discovered that squirrels have been responsible for 879 of them, as of early January. In their onslaughts they were often helped by birds, who have launched attacks on the US grid 434 times. Snakes, raccoons, rats and jellyfish are listed as key co-conspirators.

Thomas stresses that while there may be a funny side to his findings, these should also help put the threat supposedly posed by state-sponsored cyber-crime into perspective. He says only two infrastructure attacks – two Ukrainian power outages and the suspected US-Israeli computer virus on Iran – have so far been confirmed as cyber-related.

He also highlights federal analysis that says a national blackout is possible if just nine out of the US’s 55,000 substations were to be sabotaged on a single day. America’s power network, we infer, is probably living on 'burrowed' time.

On the other hand…

Thomas’s research doesn’t seem to have landed on the President’s desk yet. Last month, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson officially designated election systems as “critical infrastructure”.

Johnson’s move would place additional protections on systems including voting machines, polling stations and voter databases. The move occurred on the same day as US intelligence revealed alleged Russian influence on the presidential election, no doubt a factor in

Johnson’s assertion that nation states and cyber criminals are becoming more dangerous.
The designation infuriated government officials of some Republican states, who labelled the decision “blatant overreach” and resented this “kind of cyber hygiene”. In defence, Johnson said he was not expecting his move to win all votes.

In an explanation familiar to the sector, he added: “Given the vital role elections play in this country, it is clear that certain systems and assets of election infrastructure meet the definition of critical infrastructure, in fact and in law”.

One suspects the government’s move may have some of the infrastructure market’s core-plus investors reaching for their pockets.