Telvent's Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems help energy companies do things like opening and closing valves in pipelines and monitoring pipeline pressure and temperature, he said.
Telvent's SCADA systems are typically customized for each customer's requirements. An attacker with access to information on a particular customer's implementation would be able to identify potential soft spots and attack them, Peterson said.
"It would allow them to understand the best way to modify the system to attack one of these installations," he said. Peterson pointed to the Stuxnet attacks on Iran's nuclear facilities at Natanz as a classic example of how hackers can use information on a SCADA installation to sabotage it.
In the Natanz incident, cyber attackers destroyed about one-fifth of the 5,000 centrifuges at the facility by tricking the SCADA systems into making them spin faster.
Crafting such attacks would require considerable domain expertise, even with all the project information on hand, Peterson said. With Stuxnet, nuclear engineers who knew precisely what to do to sabotage the system were likely involved, Peterson said. The attackers at Telvent would need the same level of skills to take advantage of stolen project files, he said.
The more immediate concern is whether hackers could infiltrate Telvent's customer networks by taking advantage of the remote connectivity such companies typically maintain with their clients, Peterson said.
In that context, Telvent's move to temporarily disable its direct data links with customers is smart, he added. Telvent is doing the right things in notifying customers of the breach and keeping them abreast of the details, he said.
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