Amid the constant stream of news on the coronavirus pandemic, one event passed relatively unnoticed. On the afternoon of May 14, a company named Elexon was hacked. You probably haven’t heard of it, but Elexon plays a key role in the UK’s electricity market, and though the attack did not affect the electricity supply itself, as an academic who researches cybersecurity in the electricity system, I am worried. This near miss reveals just how vulnerable our critical infrastructure is to such attacks – especially during a pandemic.
Elexon plays an important role in the operation of the country’s electricity system. In such a system, the levels of supply and demand need to be balanced at all times. Otherwise, the system becomes unstable, which can lead to blackouts. To avoid this, Elexon compares the amount of electricity that generators promise they will produce, with the amount of electricity that suppliers say will be consumed. Where needed, the company determines the difference in price and transfers funds between the parties on either side of the transaction.