Canadian Security Magazine

Cyberattack knocks out website and mobile app for Quebec’s hydro utility

The Canadian Press   

News Data Security

By Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal

Quebec’s power utility said Thursday it was working to get its website and mobile application running again after they were knocked off-line by a cyberattack, for which a pro-Russian hacker group claimed responsibility.

Hydro-Québec said it was targeted at around 3 a.m. by a denial-of-service assault — when attackers flood an internet server with traffic and overwhelm it, triggering a crash.

A spokesman for the provincially owned utility said that while the attack shut down the company’s website and cellphone application, critical systems were not affected.

“It did not affect our production, transmission and distribution of electricity,” Francis Labbé said in an interview, adding that personal data was not compromised.

As an analogy, the Hydro spokesman compared the situation to people demonstrating in front of a building without taking anything inside.

“They did not take any information from us,” Labbé said. “It’s an attack on our website that makes it unavailable for our customers, unfortunately.”

In recent days, Canadian websites have been targeted by cyberattacks with pro-Russian groups claiming responsibility. Targets included websites for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Port of Québec and Laurentian Bank.

On Tuesday, Trudeau said it was not uncommon for Russian hackers to target nations that support Ukraine in its war against Russia, particularly when countries host high-level Ukrainian delegations — as Canada did earlier this week.

A pro-Russian hacker group known as NoName057 (16) claimed responsibility for the Hydro-Québec attack. The hacker group, which has reportedly acted on Moscow’s orders, has taken part in a slew of cyberattacks on the U.S. and its allies in the past.

Steve Waterhouse, a cybersecurity expert and lecturer at Université de Sherbrooke, said the denial of service attack is one of the easiest to perform — a sort of “cyber protest” that doesn’t target any specific data.

Waterhouse said the group in question emerged in March 2022 and has vowed to help the Russian government as it wages war in Ukraine. It has targeted anyone opposing Russia, including NATO countries and allies.

Waterhouse said organizations and governments have to adapt to new threats and evaluate whether they have the best tools to defend against such attacks.

Labbé said the utility has 300 people working on its information technology unit to restore the compromised website and mobile app. “We’re working to get everything back as soon as possible, but it’s very hard for us to tell you when exactly everything will be settled,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 13, 2023.

— With files from The Associated Press

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