Daily briefing

Total eclipse of the power grid

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A bit confusing. Source: IMAGO / Tarss

The firewalls protecting Germany’s power grids are as full of holes as a piece of Swiss cheese it seems. Last summer saw a utility company hacked: NetCom, an EnBW subsidiary, through its Cisco router. EnBW was quick to stress that the affected telecoms network was separate from EnBW’s energy networks. But according to the authorities, hackers are clicking away and have a solid chance of turning out the lights in all of Europe.

The danger goes beyond power firms: Germany’s interior ministry acknowledged that federal data networks were also penetrated, blaming Russian hackers. A German steel mill has also suffered damage.

Experts say hackers slink in through office networks and then feel their way in to more sensitive assets. So far, the government is battling the threat by asking utilities to report suspicious activity. Companies and security agencies alike seem to be having a hard time coping with the new digital threats, inching belatedly from a defensive posture on cybersecurity somewhere between crouch and couch potato, to a nascently offensive one. That transition is accompanied by the familiar worries about data security and regulation. This process could take a while.

There’s faster action on the stock market with a bunch of IPOs on deck now that it’s back-to-school season. Experts say there could be up to 10 in Germany, potentially with a volume of €8 billion. Ones to watch: Exyte, an engineering firm from Stuttgart that makes clean-room technology for the semiconductor industry; Knorr Bremse, which makes brake systems for trucks and trains; and Hymer, a maker of motorhomes and campers. If even half of the prophesied debuts materialize, 2018 could be Germany’s best year for IPOs in a decade.

While IPOs are making Germany great again, Daimler is busy making the US great again with a new assembly line for Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans in South Carolina. Amazon’s already jump-started the plant with an order for 20,000. As Donald Trump threatens a 25-percent punitive tariff on auto imports from Europe, making them in the US is a smart move. It’s also good news for its customers – tradesmen, the NYPD and the adventurers who adapt them into mini RVs for kayaking, snowboarding or camping. Pardon me while I daydream about my next US vacation.

It’s a shade less rosy on the crypto front, with the warning tale of Envion, a crypto dream turned nightmare. Run by beardless youngsters, the startup sought to cash in on the cryptocurrency industry’s growing power problem by taking the computers to places where electricity was abundant, cheap and sustainable. Investors, lured by the prospect of 161 percent returns, plunged in $100 million. The coins they received were supposedly worth a dollar each but are now worth 5 cents, due in part to slack diligence and a regulatory gray area.

Where were the adults in the room? The talk here, of course, is of the anonymous op ed in the New York Times, that reassures readers that the administration is quietly stymieing Trump. The question in Europe, as in the States, is who wrote it. German media see a “president who feels he’s under siege,” and “a world power that’s paralyzed.” Maybe that’s a good thing – a new poll shows that Donald Trump is what Germans fear most. Some 69 percent say the world is more dangerous under his policies. They’re more worried about Washington than migration or terror attacks. Let’s hope Europe can fill the void.

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