The Rising Role of Cyber Security in Sustainable Development and Growth

Last updated: 07/07/2021

12 minute read

Photo by Kervin Edward Lara on Pexels.com

The topic of sustainability is unmissable at the moment. As the urgency of the situation grows, it continues to demand attention from various sectors and industries within society. You may wonder where the cyber security industry fits into all of this. Whilst traditionally from very different worlds, they are united through the characteristics of constant innovation and the capacity to bring about real change for the better. Certainly, cyber security has a bigger role to play in the overarching battle for a more sustainable world than one may initially think. 

The Industry

As around two thirds of greenhouse gas emissions world wide are associated with burning fossil fuels1, renewable energy is a good place to start. The UK currently has the largest number of offshore wind resources in the world, equating to about 10GW in operation outside of the border2. Infrastructure such as this pushes us one step closer to meeting the UK’s target of reaching net zero emissions by 20502. It’s not just the UK that has set the ball rolling in the fight against greenhouse emissions, our friends across the pond are aiming for no electricity sector carbon emissions by 2035— as outlined by Biden3. So, whilst this growing industry means great things for our hopes of preserving the world we live in, mass investment means it is also shaping up to be a very lucrative market for cyber criminals to direct their efforts towards. Jim Guinn, global managing director for cyber security in energy, chemicals, utilities and mining at Accenture states, “The cybersecurity conversation in the renewable energy engineering and construction business is almost nonexistent today.”3 It is imperative that an industry gaining traction as quickly as this one protects itself with the necessary defense measures against cyber attacks.

How exactly are renewable energy plants made vulnerable to cyber hackers?

As mentioned before, sustainability shares close ties with new innovation. Renewables depend on control systems and distribution networks supported by technology. As many sources of renewable energy, such as wind and solar power are not readily available 24/7 like fossil fuels are— they require storage previsions that are also underpinned by technology4. IoT plays a huge role in the remote monitoring, control and regulation of off-shore wind turbines5. As we know, more than 75% of the code in use that makes these technologies a reality is open source, putting open source components smack bang in the middle of the sustainability conversation. However, older wind farms and their communication systems were never designed with the “security by design” mindset like the IEC 62443 standard6, similar to the GDPR principle7. As stated by Jim Guinn “renewables have lax cybersecurity standards, as they are an industry that may be more focused on building first and leaving cybersecurity as an afterthought”3.

Past attacks

A first example in which renewable energy facilities became victims of cyber attacks was the 2014 DragonFly hack8. The cyber criminal group used Remote Access Trojans (RAT) named Backdoor.Oldrea and Trojan.Karagany to infiltrate energy grid operators, major electricity generation firms, petroleum pipeline operators, and Energy industry industrial control system (ICS) equipment manufacturers located in the United States, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Turkey, and Poland. The hackers had been present in systems since 2011 before detection. Although reports indicate that the overarching aim of the hack was to gather intelligence, later investigation suggested it also had the capacity to take control of physical systems themselves. 

A second example in which renewable energy facilities have fallen victim to cyber attack was the SPower hack of 2019. Unfortunately, the group gained the title of being the first U.S. provider of solar and wind renewable energy to have been the victim of a cyber-attack. A hacker used a vulnerability in a Cisco firewall to interrupt the connection between sPower’s wind and solar power generation installations and the company’s main command center9

More recently, Colonial Pipeline’s hack10– reported on 7th May 2021 fell victim to a cyber attack, highlighting just how seriously energy supplies can be affected by cyber criminal organisations. As a result of ransomware, one of the U.S’ biggest pipelines was forced to shut down operations11. In the subsequently released statement it was revealed that after a 90M bitcoin payout, Colonial Pipeline said that remediation is ongoing and each system is being worked on in an “incremental approach”12. This attack compromised around 45% of the East Coast’s fuel, including gasoline, diesel, home heating oil, jet fuel, and military supplies. Whilst the energy jeopardised in this case was not renewable, Jonathan White, director of NREL’s cybersecurity program office highlighted that “As the penetration of renewable generation and EV charging stations increases in the future, the consequence of a successful attack is likely to be similar in aggregate to those of a successful attack to a natural gas, coal or nuclear plant today”3. Thus, a cyber attack such as the one launched on Colonial Pipeline gives a worrying insight into the potential damage that could be launched on the renewable energy sector. 

Risks for the future

After using the Meterian web scanner to evaluate the security of some major UK energy suppliers, we were able to see that similar issues are being faced. For example, the UK’s biggest supplier of energy, British Gas received a security score of 0 out of a best possible 100. Our report indicates that they currently have components in use that pose a threat to their system, as well as components in use with undeclared licenses.

Again, after scanning https://firstlightfusion.com/, one of the UK’s leading renewable energy suppliers, we found 2 high threat level vulnerabilities and 3 medium threat level vulnerabilities, as well as components in use with undeclared licenses. 

As this sector grows in both relevance and monetary value, there is a need for adequate cyber security that is growing in unison. According to industry growth trajectories, the renewable energy sector is set to become a big target of cyber hackers. As shown in this blog, experts have not been afraid to warn that more needs to be done to reinforce the security of renewable plants. The need is made even more important to protect consumers’ faith in new energy sources that play an important role in our fight against climate change. 

There is some evidence that the tide is changing to benefit the cybersecurity of the energy sector, both traditional and renewable. On 12th May 2021 Biden issued The Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity13. A few main points from the bill are:

  1. New and more stringent cyber security standards for government purchased software including multi-factor authentication and endpoint detection and response of software.
  2. Suppliers of technology must provide a SBOM (Software Bill Of Materials) that highlights the source of the software (supplier ID) that can be used to perform a risk assessment. This supplier ID can be used to alert high risk software if it is not verified by the digital signature applied to a SBOM14.
  3. There is to be the enforced sharing of intel surrounding cyber attacks, in the hope that the sharing of information will benefit us all. Jennifer Bisceglie, President and CEO of enterprise resilience company Interos Inc., stated that “we live in a world that people are, and companies are very concerned about their brand and reputation”15 and thus are reluctant to admit to cyber breaches. The new bill is set to remove fear of blame and shame and promote collaborative learning and continuous improvement for a safer and stronger society in the digital world.

An automatic, continuous line of defence protecting the open source components in use in renewable energy control systems is one way that Meterian can support the ongoing battle against carbon emissions. Whilst incremental in their support of rapid innovation, open source components are a pressure point to security systems of which cyber attackers are not afraid to make use of.

Visit our homepage to learn more about how Meterian can secure your businesses’ open source components—keeping cyber hackers out and your intellectual property in.

1 “Energy and climate change”. European Environment Agency, 11 May 2021, https ://www.eea.europa.eu/signals/signals-2017/articles/energy-and-climate-change

2 GOV.UK, 6 October 2020, https ://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-plans-to-make-uk-world-leader-in-green-energy

3 Vasquez, Christian. “CYBERSECUIRTY: Biden is eyeing renewable energy. So are hackers”. E&E News, 22 December 2020, https ://www.eenews.net/stories/1063721291

4 Ruhle, Micheal and Trakimavicius, Lukas. “Cyberattacks are the new challenge for renewable energy”. Politico, 18 July 2017, https ://www.politico.eu/article/opinion-cyberattacks-are-the-new-challenge-for-renewable-energy/

5 Taylor-Smith, Kerry. “How IoT can improve the performance of offshore windfarms”. NS Energy, 15 May 2020, https ://www.nsenergybusiness.com/features/iot-wind-power/

6 Freudenberg, Wolf K. “Why windfarms need to step up cyber security”. DNV, https ://www.dnv.com/article/why-windfarms-need-to-step-up-cyber-security-128082.

7 https ://gdpr-info.eu/art-25-gdpr/

8 “Emerging Threat: Dragonfly/ Energetic Bear – APT group”. BROADCOM, 30th June 2014, https ://community.broadcom.com/symantecenterprise/communities/community-home/librarydocuments/viewdocument?DocumentKey=16fb565a-8297-4641-8105-b5d0d4db3ee1&CommunityKey=30643d26-dab8-4c4b-a34e-5f6f02d58ff6&tab=librarydocuments

9 Cimpanu, Catalin. “Cyber-attack hits Utah wind and solar energy provider”. ZDNet, 31 October 2019, https ://www.zdnet.com/article/cyber-attack-hits-utah-wind-and-solar-energy-provider/

10 “Colonial Pipeline confirms it paid $4.4m ransom to hacker gang after attack”. The Guardian, 20 May 2021, https ://www.theguardian.com/technology/2021/may/19/colonial-pipeline-cyber-attack-ransom

11 Galiordi, Natalie. “Colonial Pipeline aims to restore operations by end of the week after cyberattack”. ZDNet, 10 May 2021, https ://www.zdnet.com/article/colonial-pipeline-aims-to-restore-operations-by-end-of-the-week-after-cyberattack/

12 Stevens, Pippa. “Owner of pipeline shuttered by cyber attack aims to restore service by end of the week”. CNBC, 10 May 2021, https ://www.cnbc.com/2021/05/10/colonial-says-parts-of-fuel-pipeline-being-brought-online-aims-to-restore-service-by-end-of-week.html

13 The White House, 12 May 2021, https ://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/05/12/executive-order-on-improving-the-nations-cybersecurity/

14 Brooks, Richard. energycentral, 21 May 2021, https ://energycentral.com/c/ec/cybersecurity-executive-order-requires-new-software-security-standards-synopsys

15 Roby, Karen. MSN, “Expert: Biden’s executive order on cyber security is a good start toward protecting organizations”. 26 May 2021, https ://www.msn.com/en-us/money/smallbusiness/expert-bidens-executive-order-on-cybersecurity-is-a-good-start-toward-protecting-organizations/ar-AAKnd7E?ocid=uxbndlbing

The Rising Role of Cyber Security in Sustainable Development and Growth

Open Source Licensing- the Weirder the Better

5 minute read

Photo by Sora Shimazaki on Pexels.com

As it’s a requirement that all open source projects are released under at least one open source license, they hold a great deal of influence in how said open source code is used and re-distributed by others. Whilst some licenses can be difficult to make head or tail of due to complicated non-developer language, there are some more relaxed licenses that take the opportunity to have some fun with their requirements. So, to save you doing it, we have assembled our top 5 all time quirky open source licenses to look out for: 

  1. The Beerware License

Written by Danish software developer Poul-Henning Kamp, this license states that if the user thinks the stuff they reuse is worth it they must buy the creator a beer in return. The license’s original notation can be found here. Kamp states his reasoning for the Beerware license is an act of defiance against ‘lawyers trying to interpret freedom’, believing that free open source code should remain free regardless of how much profit is made through its use. Since the requirement is optional, based on the contingency that the user believes the code is ‘worth it’, this license falls under the category of ‘CopyRight only’ licenses. If the requirement were mandatory, the license would be classed as ‘non-free’, and Kamp would most likely be drunk a lot of the time. 

  1. The Chicken Dance License

Otherwise known as the CDL, this license requires employees affiliated with organisations using the open source code to perform ‘The Chicken Dance’ for varying amounts of time, depending on how many units are distributed. The license was created by Andrew Harris with the goal of making “intellectual property far more entertaining to deal with”. Similarly to Kamp, Harries includes himself in wanting fewer lawyers in software – suggesting that the motive behind this wacky license holds strong roots in open source principles of open collaboration. The ‘Chicken Dance’ in question can be found here, but if you can’t master it don’t worry- the license states that moving in a chicken like manor is sufficient.

  1. The Don’t Ask Me About It License 

Perhaps the most simple of the licenses included in the blog, this license simply requests that users do not pester the creator with any issues they may be having with the file. The nod to lack of responsibility is admirable, there is something to be said for wanting to lead a quiet life post software development.

  1. The Hot Potato License

This license states that ‘all rights are reserved by the last person to commit a change to this repository’. Thus, the rights are passed on from person to person infinitely- like a game of hot potato. However, to avoid anyone interrupting this game of hot potato, users are prohibited from making drastic changes to the repository that would do so. It’s a nice touch from the creator to give us all the opportunity to control the rights of such a well known open source license at least once in our life 

  1. The Do What The F*** You Want License

The Do What The F*** You Want License is a ‘very permissive’ license that can be taken as a direct stand against the principle of licencing software in general. Whilst playing by the rules of licencing, this license intends to be a free pass for distribution without any constraints. However, in the attempt of being so liberal, this license actually poses an issue for some major corporations. For example, Google finds the license too unclear to use confidently. As a result, they have banned the use of components under this license completely. However, if you like the look of this license don’t let Google scare you off, wtfpl.net offers guidance on how to make the most of it.

Whilst there is a funny side to open source licensing, failure to stay on top of your business’s license compliance management could be detrimental. A strong defence of these risks, as well as efficient software composition analysis tools will help manage the use of open source in your code base and avoid hefty fines and diminished customer relations. In this way, legal due diligence is an important step in agile development as it allows to ‘push forward’ and remediate any legal obstacles blocking a decision from being made. To read more about cyber due diligence, check out our past blog.

Get in touch with a member of our team to learn more about how Meterian can help your business master License Compliance Management.

Open Source Licensing- the Weirder the Better

Which Open Source License is best for you?

3 minute read

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The right open source license is necessary to protect your intellectual property and an important factor in maintaining license compliance management. As well as this, open source licensing underpins the essence of open source values in facilitating open redistribution. The integration of license compliance management into your CI/CD pipeline is just another way of optimizing the efficiency of your software supply chain. The best license for you will be shaped by your reason for creating code and your goals for redistribution. Use our introductory guide to decide which is best for you. Licenses and legal terminology are that of a very different world than what developers are used to. Because of this, we have organised our guide into developer persona categories. Simply pick the Dev that aligns most closely with yourself to learn more.

Devs working within a community:

If you are collaborating with an existing community or project, the best option for you is to align with the community you are a part of by adopting the project’s existing license. This can be found under the ‘license’ or ‘copying’ file of a project. If this fails, simply contact the maintainers of your community for clarification. As the licensing decision has already been made for you, you can spend less time on legalities and more time on software innovation- lucky you.

Devs not looking to overcomplicate:

The MIT license is perfect for devs that want to keep things straightforward. It is relaxed in that redistribution requires little to no control criteria other than the continuation of copyright and licensing details. The material that falls under this license is able to be used for both commercial and private use, as long as a copy of the license and copyright notice is included in any instances of modification or distribution. However, when using this license you should be aware that limitation of liability is included. As well as this, there is no warranty provided with this license.

Devs that care about sharing improvements:

The GNU General Public License v3.0 allows you to copy, distribute and modify projects under the condition you note all modifications and dates of modification in the source files. All modifications made to GPL-license code must also be made available under the GPL with installation instructions for future devs. This license forbids users from sub-licensing, although it provides software that does have the right to run and distribute the code. Users should be aware that this license includes a limitation of liability, meaning that the owner cannot be charged for damages associated with code using this license.

We hope this quick read has shed some light on the world of license compliance management. Whilst it may be confusing at first, it is worth taking the time to pick the right license for you and your project to best publish your software and display your innovation. For more information on potential risks associated with license compliance, see our past blog: ‘How the wrong license can harm your business’.

Get in touch with a member of our team to learn more about how Meterian can help your business master License Compliance Management.

Which Open Source License is best for you?

Spotify vs Hacker, Round 2: Room for Improvement

5 minute read

We can all admit that as dreary as 2020 has been, it has at least been consistent in its dreariness. One organisation that can definitely vouch for this is music streaming giant Spotify. In true 2020 style, Spotify wrapped up the end of the year with a data breach on November 12th1 in which customers’ private account details were exposed.

Image of woman's left hand holding mobile phone with Spotify logo on screen
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Now, we may wonder why a hacker would be interested in Spotify accounts. Sadly, it’s not because they want to steal music inspiration from us. The details of targeted private accounts include customer display names, passwords, genders and D.O.B.’s which were leaked to various Spotify business partners. Speaking of business partners, we must also note that a Spotify breach does not solely expose Spotify users but may also put customers on connected devices or platforms at risk. The interconnectedness of our information sharing means that a problem for Spotify could be a problem for us all. This information is harvested by malicious actors to perform credential stuffing attacks, in which stolen passwords are used to uncover more stolen passwords for other sites and applications.

Meterian web scanner scan of www.Spotify.com, showing a security score of 0, a stability score of 99, and a licensing score of 72

Moreover, this would not be the last experience Spotify had of data breaches in 2020. A week later, a cyber criminal under the guise ‘Daniel’ infiltrated celebrity Spotify accounts including Dua Lipa and Lana Del Rey2. Although in this case it was not customers PII that was exposed, it still casts a shadow on Spotify’s claim of prioritising “protecting privacy and maintaining user’s trust” as outlined in an official statement released on the 9th December 20203.

Screenshot of twitter post of Lana Del Rey's  twitter account hacked

Enter now: Meterian web scanner, which we’ve used to perform a quick surface scan of http://www.spotify.com to identify what security, stability and licensing risks of open source components are within the website’s codebase. Here we can see that Spotify currently has a security score of 0 out of 100, with 1 known vulnerable component – jquery 2.1.3 which has at least one high and several medium threats as confirmed by NVD4. Although we do not know for sure what the unlocked route of entry was in Spotify’s case, this open source entry may well have been it. Subsequently, there is nothing stopping cyber criminals from using this chink in the armour to perpetrate similar breaches in the future. 

Although the vulnerability was discovered on November 12th, Spotify disclosed that it was present within the system from as far back as April. This means that more than 320 million user’s personal data was at risk for at least 7 months prior. Having carried out our own analysis in a matter of minutes, we immediately notice that the vulnerable component in use is actually more than three years out of date! We hope their web and mobile apps get greater scrutiny with regards to the maintenance of their open source dependencies. At Meterian we have developed a security platform that automatically identifies known vulnerabilities in software applications’ open source supply chain. To give our customers the best chance of resolving such issues, the platform can be easily integrated in software development teams’ DevOps process. The continuous nature of DevSecOps empowers development teams to be the first line of defence as they code applications.

Open source components have become fundamental components of applications that are relied upon for basic functionality and security. Since over 90% of applications consist of open source components nowadays, securing this part of a business’ IT and software has become an area that requires greater scrutiny in quality and maintenance.

Meterian helps ensure software applications’ open source supply chain is free from any known vulnerabilities that could compromise the application’s security and stability. Is it worth risking to damage the firm’s reputation and competitive edge in the market?

Curious to see what we can automatically report on your software applications? Detect known vulnerabilities in your open source software supply chain before your own applications become an Achilles heel. Get in touch and see how Meterian can make your company’s application security defence more robust. 

1 Whittaker, Zack. “Spotify resets passwords after a security bug exposed users’ private account information.” Tech Crunch, 10 Dec 2020, https:// techcrunch.com/2020/12/10/spotify-resets-user-passwords-after-a-bug-exposed-private-account-information/

2 “Dua Lipa and other Spotify artists’ pages hacked by Taylor Swift ‘fan’”. BBC News, 2 Dec 2020, https:// bbc.co.uk/news/technology-55158317.

3 “Spotify Breach Notice Letter.” Spotify, 9 Dec 2020, https:// beta.documentcloud.org/documents/20422370-spotify-breach-notice-letter-californiadocx

4 U.S. Department of Commerce. “National Vulnerability Database.” https:// nvd.nist.gov/vuln/search/results?adv_search=true&cpe_version=cpe%3A%2Fa%3Ajquery%3Ajquery%3A2.1.3

Spotify vs Hacker, Round 2: Room for Improvement