THE National Grid Corp. of the Philippines’ (NGCP) transparency regarding its operations has become an issue after reports that it has detected 100 cyberattacks, officials said.
At a Monday hearing at the Senate Committee on Energy, NGCP President Anthony L. Almeda disclosed the detection of cyberattacks “a hundred times,” in the past few weeks. On top of this, National Transmission Corporation (TransCo) said the NGCP uses the NARI Transmission Control Operational Platform System, which allows remote access to the grid.
“Ito po ’yung ginagamit na computer control na pwede mag-switch on and switch off ng circuit breaker ng powerplants (This is the computer system that is used to switch powerplant circuit breakers on and off),” TransCo consultant Rowaldo del Mundo told the panel. He also answered in the affirmative when asked if such controls are remotely accessible.
Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi pressed the NGCP to subject its operations to audit to ensure that security measures are in place to counter attacks.
“The vulnerability is always there, the threat is always there, we must have the defenses in place,” he said in the same hearing. “That’s why we want to have an audit to determine if we have the right defensive mechanism to protect our system.”
Mr. Cusi said the department has attempted to audit the NGCP since 2017, but was declined. The NGCP, for its part, said it is open to the audit, provided it is conducted by the Energy Regulatory Commission.
NGCP Spokesperson Cynthia P. Alabanza said the detections are proof that its cybersecurity efforts are effective. “Nag-invest ang NGCP heavily on cybersecurity, ‘yung mga vulnerability, everyday pinag-aaralan (NGCP invested heavily in cybersecurity, and the vulnerabilities are evaluated every day),” she told reporters after the hearing.
“Kahit anong sistema na may cyber aspect, may mga detections talaga pero dahil matatag ang ating cybersecurity efforts, walang nakakalusot (Any system with a cyber aspect will have attempted instrusions but our cybersecurity efforts are robust, and nothing has got through),” she said.
Asked to comment, Ateneo de Manila University professor and cybersecurity expert William Emmanuel S. Yu said NGCP represents “critical infrastructure” that must be protected.
“I am not familiar with the systems being used in NGCP. Nor am I familiar with the NARI Transmission Control Operational Platform system. I am pretty certain that there are mechanisms that can be used to secure such critical infrastructure,” Mr. Yu said via e-mail, Saturday.
“It would be important to inquire on what controls NGCP has in place to prevent such attacks from occurring and what they have to ensure that nothing else is getting across.”
Mr. Yu called the matter a national security concern, citing the experience of Ukraine.
“Imagine being able to disrupt power distribution in the country by disrupting the national grid. This has already happened in the past.”
In December 2016, a portion of Ukraine suffered power outages after hackers accessed its electric utility system.
A 2017 Wired.com report, shared by Mr. Yu, described the malware as having the capability to cause a massive power outage “far more widespread and longer lasting” than the Ukraine blackout. — Charmaine A. Tadalan