It's not clear that AGA-12 could have stopped the "spear-phishing" type of cyberattack now under way against the natural gas industry, experts say. But it could stop at least one kind: attacks directly on systems in the field of the kind DHS has highlighted in numerous studies and reports.
Installed in front of each vulnerable device would have been an AGA-12 gatekeeper, a sealed black box with a processor and cryptographic software inside, he explains. That "bump in the wire" would sift and decipher commands coming in from legitimate operators, but shield the vulnerable industrial control systems behind them from any false signals that might allow a hacker to take over.
"It was never intended to be a silver bullet," Dr. Rush says. "But it would definitely have provided quite a lot more protection for critical infrastructure like gas pipelines and the power grid than we have right now."
The reality of the cyberthreat was driven home in late March, when DHS issued the first of four confidential "alerts" warning of a cyberattack campaign against US natural gas pipeline companies' computer networks. Some researchers have linked the attack to a 2011 attack for which US officials blame China.
Those recent attacks follow a trend in which corporate and industrial networks belonging to critical infrastructure companies are seen to be a growing target. In April, the cybersecurity company McAfee and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think tank, found that 40 percent of electric utility company officials in 14 countries said their networks were under attack and more vulnerable than ever.