The first neighbourhood they unplugged was Olaya, Riyadh’s wealthiest and gaudiest central district. By the time they had finished their rampage through the computer systems behind the power grid, the infiltrators believed they had left millions without electricity, crippling hospitals and military facilities.
What the hackers, whose use of Farsi and bespoke malware gave away their Iranian origins, did not realise was that the critical computer networks they had compromised were fake.
The network, complete with Arabic scripting and precise names of individual substations and pylons, was the work of MalCrawler, a cyber security group specialising in protecting industrial computer systems. It was just one of a set of intricate digital honeytraps designed to gauge the intentions of the attackers who routinely tried to crack into the systems owned by MalCrawler’s clients. Equally intricate models were made of European, American and Israeli power systems.