Ireland is looking to ensure that Government and State agencies are prepared for a large-scale cyber incident impacting critical national infrastructure.

Ireland’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has conducted a successful emergency exercise simulating the national response to a hypothetical cyberattack targeting the energy sector.

The routine exercise took place in the National Emergency Coordination Centre yesterday (24 November).

It aimed to test existing procedures outlined in Ireland’s national cyber emergency plan to ensure that Government and State agencies are prepared for a large-scale cyber incident impacting critical national infrastructure.

Public and private entities including An Garda Síochána, Government departments, the Defence Forces, ESB Networks, EirGrid, Gas Networks Ireland, the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities and a third-party cyber incident provider took part in the exercise.

ESB Networks, EirGrid and Gas Networks Ireland already have “robust and tested procedures” in place to deal with emergencies of this nature.

NCSC director Richard Browne said after the exercise that the scenario outlining a series of escalating cyber incidents in the energy sector was a “complex and challenging reminder of the difficulties associated with coordinating a whole-of-Government response” to such crises.

“The exercise also allowed us to test and coordinate with our partners across the public and private sector, including An Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces and the main energy providers and regulators, leaving us better prepared to collaborate during any real-life situations.”

Browne was appointed as NCSC director in January to further develop the operational capacity and expertise of the centre. His appointment came at a pivotal time for cybersecurity in Ireland following the HSE cyberattack last year, which caused widespread disruption to the healthcare system.

There have also been repeated warnings this year about a global rise in ransomware attacks targeting critical infrastructure.

Ireland’s national cyber emergency plan sets out the approach for responding to hypothetical cyberattacks and other incidents that may affect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of important national IT and other systems.

Learnings and outputs from yesterday’s exercise will be used to further refine the cyber emergency plan and inform future exercises.

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