Elexon, a middleman in the UK power grid network hit by cyber-attack

Pierluigi Paganini May 17, 2020

Elexon, a middleman in the UK power grid network, recently reported it was hit by a cyber attack.

Elexon, a middleman in the UK power grid network, was the victim of a cyber attack, the incident impacted only affected the internal IT network, including the company’s email server, and employee laptops

“Hackers have targeted a critical part of the UK’s power network, locking staff out of its systems and leaving them unable to send or receive emails.” reads a post published by The Telegraph.

“Elexon – a key player in the energy market between power station operators and firms that supply households and businesses – said in a statement that its internal systems and company laptops had been affected by the cyberattack. It declined to give further details.”

The company manages electricity supply and demand and distributes the power around the network according to the demand.

“We are advising you that today that ELEXON’s internal IT systems have been impacted by a cyber attack. BSC Central Systems and EMR are currently unaffected and working as normal. The attack is to our internal IT systems and ELEXON’s laptops only.” reads a post published by the company on its website. “We are currently working hard to resolve this. However please be aware that at the moment we are unable to send or receive any emails.”

The company has taken down the email server in response to the attack.

According to Elexon, the systems use to manage the UK’s electricity transit were not impacted.

The company published a second message to announce that it has discovered the root cause of the incident, and that is was working to restore the internal network and employee laptops. Elexon also added that the BSC Central Systems (and their data) and EMR were not impacted and are continuing to work as normal. 

Even if the company did not reveal any details on the attack, experts speculate the involvement of a ransomware.

Experts from security firm Bad Packets reported that Elexon had been running an outdated version of Pulse Secure VPN server, if confirmed threat actors could have exploited it to access the internal network.

In January, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) warned organizations that attackers continue to exploit the well known Pulse Secure VPN vulnerability tracked as CVE-2019-11510.

The CVE-2019-11510 flaw in Pulse Connect Secure is a critical arbitrary file read vulnerability, it could be easily exploited by using publicly available proof-of-concept code. The flaw can be used in combination with the CVE-2019-11539 remote command injection issue gain access to private VPN networks.

In October, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) reported that advanced persistent threat (APT) groups have been exploiting recently disclosed VPN vulnerabilities in enterprise VPN products in attacks in the wild. Threat actors leverage VPN vulnerabilities in Fortinet, Palo Alto Networks and Pulse Secure, to breach into the target networks.

The UK agency reported that APT groups target several vulnerabilities, including CVE-2019-11510 and CVE-2019-11539 in Pulse Secure VPN solutions, and CVE-2018-13379.

NSA also warned of multiple state-sponsored cyberespionage groups exploiting enterprise VPN Flaws

Despite Pulse Secure addressed the flaw in April, thousands of Pulse Secure VPN endpoints are yet to be fixed. In January 2020, Bad Packets reported that there were still 3,623 vulnerable Pulse Secure VPN servers, 1,233 of which were in the United States. The security firm confirmed, Elexon was still running an outdated Pulse Secure VPN installation.

The UK’s National Grid agency publicly announced that the incident did not affect electricity supply across the nation.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – Elexon, hacking)

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