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Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba is a writer and journalist based in Mexico City. She has extensive experience writing and editing environmental features, travel pieces, local news in the…

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The Very Real Risk of Russian Cyberattacks On The West’s Energy Infrastructure

  • Russia’s continued aggression in Ukraine has sparked outrage amongst the global community.
  • Fears of further Russian aggression are not limited to physical attacks.
  • “Conflict in Ukraine presents perhaps the most acute cyber risk U.S. and western corporations have ever faced,” the Harvard Business Review report states.

As Russia continues to push into Ukraine against the condemnation of the global community, fears of further Russian aggression is not limited to physical attack. As Moscow struggles under the weight of economic sanctions, experts fear that Russia will lash out with one of its most potent weapons – the internet. The threat of Russian cyberattack is not only imminent – it may already be happening.

Even before Russian troops crossed the border into Ukraine, the Harvard Business Review had been warning of the potential of “a new wave of cyber-attacks on Ukrainian and western energy, finance, and communications infrastructure.” The prescient editorial also warned that sanctions would not deter Russian cyber warfare, it would only fuel the Kremlin’s fire. In fact, the European Central Bank (ECB) has warned European financial institutions that sanctions will be viewed by Putin as economic warfare, and will almost certainly trigger an aggressive response.

“Conflict in Ukraine presents perhaps the most acute cyber risk U.S. and western corporations have ever faced,” the Harvard Business Review report states. “Russia will not stand by, but will instead respond asymmetrically using its considerable cyber capability.” Russian cyber-attack could put entire global supply chains at risk, thereby making entire economies vulnerable, and posing a threat to consumers at a time when inflation and costs of living are already bruisingly high.

Few sectors stand to lose as much from the conflict in Ukraine as the energy sector. The European Union is reliant on Russia for more than a third of its natural gas supplies, and Germany gets a full 50% of its LNG from the embattled nation. As Europe tries to hit Russia where it hurts, global leaders have been hesitant to sanction energy. While energy sanctions would be the swiftest and strongest punishment for the Kremlin, the punishment would be just as swift and strong for European consumers. Because of this, Europe has been rapidly trying to decrease its dependence on Russian fossil fuels to keep the lights on. 

Just last week Germany ordered 1.5 billion Euros worth of non-Russian liquefied natural gas and announced that it would be slowing its exit from coal in an attempt to diversify its energy mix and shore up the nation’s energy security independence so that it may wean itself off of Russian LNG. In Germany’s new energy plan, every bit of German-made energy is as good as gold. And so Russia is hitting back where it hurts, by attacking the country’s renewable energy industry. 

And last Tuesday, a satellite cyberattack paralyzed 11 gigawatts’ worth of German wind turbines and crippled a communication system that is also used for photovoltaic solar power. The attack almost certainly came from Russian forces. The outage took place between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. on Thursday, when Russian forces were pouring over the Ukrainian border. 

While the targeting of German renewables sends a potent message, however, it may have been collateral damage from an attack that was more specifically trying to target the German military. The attack was not on the wind turbines themselves, but on the KA-Sat communication satellite that the industry relies on. The U.S. military’s communication also runs on such satellites, owned by Viasat. While the fallout from this attack was limited, it is a warning of the enormous and often unpredictable ripple effects from even the most targeted cyber-attacks and the vulnerability of our energy grids. 

Germany's Federal Office for Information Security has activated the national IT crisis response center. According to reporting from PV Magazine, “federal administrations, operators of critical infrastructure, organizations and companies have been advised ‘to increase vigilance and readiness to react.’”

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com

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