Sunday 17 April 2016 10:12 pm

World Energy Council: Cyber threat to world energy

The UK is at risk of a potentially devastating attack against its energy infrastructure, according to the head of the World Energy Council.

Speaking to City A.M., Christopher Frei, director general at the World Energy Council, said the UK was one of several countries facing a growing threat.

“In the last two years this issue has really come close to – if not to the top of – the issues keeping energy leaders awake at night,” he said. “So cyber is a very big issue for energy infrastructure.”

Asked whether he believes that businesses and politicians in the UK are underestimating this risk, the head of the UN-accredited body said: “Yes I do.”

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The issue is flagged in the World Energy Council’s new annual report which says: “Since the last report, UK energy security has seen a marked refocusing on to non-industry-related external threats such as those from terrorism and cyber attacks, whether individual or state-sponsored."

“State actors with the capabilities are China, Russia, possibly Iran, Israel and the US,” said Ewan Lawson, a senior research fellow in military influence at Rusi, the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies.

“If the situation deteriorated between the UK and Russia it’s feasible that the Russian state could encourage some of its non-state actors to act on its behalf. This is happening more broadly in terms of Ukraine.”

The issue came to prominence in December after the first known power outage caused by a cyber attack. Hackers disabled the electricity supply to tens of thousands of customers in central and western Ukraine.

“It is absolutely becoming a higher risk, especially given Ukraine where there was an actual attack against energy infrastructure” Dr Mike Westmacott, cyber security practice technical lead at Thales Cyber & Consulting, told City A.M.

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“The economic cost of a blackout is just huge. What can you do without energy? Everything stops," Frei said, adding that the effect on the UK would be “devastating”.

Former Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox MP added: “This is not a theoretical risk but a very real threat.”

A government spokesperson said: “Cyber security is a top priority for the government. We have already invested £860m in defending the UK against cyber attacks, with a further £1.9bn dedicated to this issue.

"We constantly work with industry to ensure we are prepared for, and can defend against, potential risk. The UK has one of the most reliable electricity systems in the world, with dedicated cyber experts and teams in place to protect it.”