Electrical Espionage: Spies Hack Into the U.S. Power Grid

By Eliza Strickland | April 8, 2009 9:55 am

electricitySpies have hacked into the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could allow outside agents to seize control of the grid and disrupt the flow of electricity across the nation, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

The spies came from China, Russia and other countries, [national security] officials said, and were believed to be on a mission to navigate the U.S. electrical system and its controls. The intruders haven’t sought to damage the power grid or other key infrastructure, but officials warned they could try during a crisis or war. “The Chinese have attempted to map our infrastructure, such as the electrical grid,” said a senior intelligence official. “So have the Russians” [The Wall Street Journal]. While officials say they traced the intrusions back to China, Russia, and other countries, experts say it’s nearly impossible to prove that the hacks were government-sponsored. The Chinese and Russian governments have denied any wrongdoing.

Officials say that water, sewage, and other infrastructure systems are also at risk. However, the officials added that they don’t see an immediate danger. China, for example, has little incentive to disrupt the U.S. economy because it relies on American consumers and holds U.S. government debt [The Wall Street Journal].

The report follows a Pentagon announcement Tuesday which showed more than $100 million was spent in the last six months responding to and repairing damage from cyber attacks and other computer network problems, military leaders said…. “The important thing is that we recognize that we are under assault from the least sophisticated – what I would say the bored teenager – all the way up to the sophisticated nation-state, with some pretty criminal elements sandwiched in-between” [CBS], says Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton. The Obama administration has been conducting a cybesecurity review to respond to growing concerns; it is due to be released next week.

Related Content:
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80beats: Google and GE Team Up to Save the U.S. Power Grid
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80beats: Russian Invasion Included the First Real Use of “Cyber Warfare”

Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology
  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/ Uncle Al

    The US jails its most Gifted hackers; its enemies massively encourage theirs with State sanction, resources, and remuneration. The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed. Think of it as evolution in action

  • http://www.tendollarhats.com Joe Tiller

    Wow this is really scary! Could you imagine what would happen in the event of a terrorist attack….and then all of our electricity goes out? Thank God I can bare arms to protect myself!

  • http://www.tendollarhats.com Joe Tiller

    I understand that someone has done this with the water and sewage. They let tons of sewage be released and took control of the plant! Crazy stuff. http://www.tendollarhats.com

  • Tom

    Our infrastructure is not secure….

    Yes part ofit is living in a free society where there is so much open information but we cannot wait until a war or national emergency is declared before security is placed on par with self sufficiency and efficiency.

    For example there is great talk of a smart grid and renewable energy but no talk of protecting the grid from an EMP pulse. The technology is out there and it should be mandated.

    People complain about cost…but we have about 30% of our economy under-capacity. Upgrading our infrastructure and our security is an excellent way to put ournation back to work.

  • http://clubneko.net Nick

    A couple things: I’ve worked in network security at an internet service provider (back in the days of modems, when we had to hunt dinosaurs to fuel our emergency generators and stuff) and I can guarantee you that the supposed countries of origin for these attacks are likely not. The countries of origin of these attacks merely contain the hacked computers they have bounced their way through on their way over here.

    That being said there’s no reason Chinese hackers aren’t attacking through Russian computers and vice versa. My only point here is that it’s probably a lot more complicated that it seems, and the compromised computers we have found ‘attacking’ us are probably a red herring at the moment.

    Every country with computers has hackers, and we’ve given most people a reason to hate, fear or be jealous of us (among other things).

    In the wild distributed world of the net, national boundaries are firewalled at worst and completely open at best.

    Why the computers that control such important infrastructure are hooked up to the internet with such little protection is beyond me.

    And as far as EMP attacks go, the most likely source in today’s world is a nuke, so you’ve got more important things to worry about there. Yes, people have made van-sized single shot EMP weapons, but they don’t have very much range – the only source we know of that’s nationwide is the nuke option.

    And as far as infrastructure not being secure being part and parcel to an open society, that’s just not true. It’s just EXPENSIVE, and so much cheaper to not do the right thing. Why do you think so many people bend pollution rules? It’s bad for everyone, including them, but it’s the cheap and easy option so they do that first and just pay the fine.

  • Michael

    The Chinese have a very repressive regime, but they are very smart—a lot smarter than our own leaders. Rest assured that the Chinese will attack the vunerable infrastructure of the US if they determine that they have a good enough reason. Being difficult to trace, these attacks can be denied as being from some rogue hackers, and the US will be unwilling to retaliate because of lack of proof positive. So this is a brillant scheme by the Chinese.

  • yrag

    I suspect that if the Russians and Chinese have installed these hacks into our infrastructure, American black ops must have similar code-spies and hacks in place—this is not a criticism per se, just a logical assumption. It makes sense that our officials would call out the threat facing us yet not exposing our hands.

    Still, it’s sobering information, since it is the societies most reliant on technology that is most vulnerable upon it’s lose.

  • Lyndon

    My question is: what benefit is there in attacking our nation’s power grid if China wants us to be prosperous to buy thier goods? also, Is there a motive in attacking us now, with the convergence of the financial meltdown going on? I find the timing of this very curious. How would we as U.S. citizens really know who was doing the attacking?

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