Welcome to Codebook, the cybersecurity newsletter that welcomes our squirrel overlords.
Tips? please reply to this email.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
In news stories, TV shows and at least one bestselling non-fiction book, you'll see warnings that hackers are coming to take out the U.S. electric grid, plunging the nation into democracy-ending darkness. An attack on that scale was even raised by leading intelligence officials in an Axios deep dive on global security threats.
The people tasked with protecting U.S. electrical infrastructure say the scenario where hackers take down the entire grid — the one that's also the plot of the "Die Hard" movie where Bruce Willis blows up a helicopter by launching a car at it — is not a realistic threat. And focusing on the wrong problem means we’re not focusing on the right ones.
So, why can't you hack the grid? Here's one big reason: "The thing called the grid does not exist," said a Department of Homeland Security official involved in securing the U.S. power structure.
Think of the grid like the internet.
Redundancy and resilience: Every aspect of the electric system, from the machines in power plants to the grid as a whole, is designed with redundancy in mind. You can’t just break a thing or 10 and expect a prolonged blackout.
The real threat:
Go deeper with the full story.
This is how little cybersecurity and electric grid experts are worried about the national blackout scenario: The inside joke in industrial security circles is that squirrels are the real terrorists.
Punch a squirrel: There are a ton of power outages worldwide caused by squirrels and other animals. Experts will often compare the success rate of terrorists or nation states attacking power plants and various obscure species causing mayhem.
IBM's Cris Thomas gave a presentation on how squirrels are "winning the cyberwar" at Shmoocon in 2017 that's worth checking out.
Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
The DNC walked back an assertion that it had detected a "sophisticated" hacking attempt early Thursday, announcing instead that it was simply a subcontractor's unauthorized security test.
Why it matters: While this is a slight black eye for the DNC, which looks a little foolish for riling up the press over what turned out to be an internal matter, it's a massive victory for Lookout, the third-party security firm that caught the "attempt" with its unique approach to discovering phishing sites.
What actually happened:
The tech behind the hullabaloo:
At a press conference Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen called on all states to have "verifiable and auditable" voting systems by the next presidential election.
Why it matters: Her comments follow a July speech by Vice President Pence asking states to upgrade their voting systems from less secure, outdated electric systems that leave no mechanism to verify election results.
But, but, but: Pence didn't ask congress for more funding in his speech, and Nielsen told reporters she anticipated much of the funding for the upgrades to take place within states. Many state secretaries of state don't see that as a viable plan to pay for the costly equipment.
Researchers at Kaspersky Labs announced Thursday that they've discovered malicious cryptocurrency apps for Mac and Windows that the security firm tied to Lazarus, a well known North Korean government-sponsored hacking group.
Why it matters: A key goal of Lazarus, the group most known to Americans from the Sony Pictures attack, is to generate funds for the Kim regime to compensate for losses from sanctions. What makes the "AppleJeus" malware interesting, says Kaspersky, is that it's the first known attempt by Lazarus to attack MacOS.
The details: AppleJeus is a malicious updater application paired with a non-malicious trading app.
Codebook is taking a week off next week. You should too. We'll meet up again a week from Tuesday.