Hackers pose risk to U.S power grid

Computer hackers have embedded software on the United States’ electricity grid that could disrupt service or cause other damage, two former federal officials told CNN, with one of those officials saying that this type of hacking could become “the 21st century version of cold war spying.”

One government official said that although he is unaware of specific threats, he assumes that these types of attacks from other countries happen frequently.

“Their foreign intelligence service has been probing our computers, our defense computers, our defense contractors, our power grids, our telephone system. ... I just came from a speech at the national defense university and they were hit by the Chinese trying to get into their systems,” Robert Baer, a former CIA operative, told CNN. “They are testing and have gotten in portals. It’s a serious threat.”

Although the government would take such an attack seriously, the Department of Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano would not confirm this specific breach to CNN.

“There have been, to my knowledge, no disruptions of power on any grid caused by a deliberate cyberattack on our infrastructure—on the grid,” Napolitano said. “Nonetheless, we remain in constant protection, prevention, education, resiliency mode and we work with the utility sector particularly on that.”

But if the software is breached, why haven’t we seen any problems? Baer told CNN that if the software has been put in place he doubts they would use it right away. Instead, they would likely keep the bugs in place in a case of future conflict.

Security experts say that the hacking could be the work of either Russia or China. Any country able to breach the U.S power grid would hold an obvious advantage in any kind of future confrontation.

Although finding the coding can be destroyed when found, experts say that is very difficult to do, and tracing it is next to impossible.

“If you have somebody who knows what they’re doing writing that code and embedding it in a clever way, you can look right at it and not recognize it,” Scott Borg, director and chief economist at the U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit, said to CNN.

Although the power grid is owned by individual companies, not the government, the Department of Homeland Security plans to continue working with power companies to help prevent an attack.

“Can we continue to work to enhance efforts within critical infrastructure like the utility grid? Yes,” Napolitano told CNN. “Are we continuously looking for ways to enhance and educate for the prevention and protection of the cyberworld? Absolutely.”

courtesy: www.collegenews.com