Monday, 9 November 2009

Mass US power hack possible

Cyber warfare is most certainly no longer the subject of blockbuster Hollywood movies. An ex-chief of US national intelligence has told CBS' 60 Minutes programme that not only is the country vulnerable to cyber warfare but that it is unprepared for an attack. Speculating on what an attacker might do, Retired Admiral Mike McConnell said:

"If I were an attacker and I wanted to do strategic damage to the United States, I would either take the cold of winter or the heat of summer, I probably would sack electric power on the U.S. East Cost, maybe the West Coast, and attempt to cause a cascading effect. All of those things are in the art of the possible from a sophisticated attacker." A couple of years ago this would have been a Jame Bond/Die Hard baddy-plan. Now the guy whose day job involved running the CIA and NSA is talking about hackers turning the lights out on the US.

The report also quoted President Obama as saying, "We know that cyber intruders have probed our electrical grid, and that in other countries cyber attacks have plunged entire cities into darkness." He is most likely referring to hacker attacks against Brazilian power supplies in 2005 and 2007. The report states, "Several prominent intelligence sources confirmed that there were a series of cyber attacks in Brazil: one north of Rio de Janeiro in January 2005 that affected three cities and tens of thousands of people, and another, much larger event beginning on Sept. 26, 2007."*

So when you're watching the inevitable action movies this Christmas, don't scoff at the evil hacker elements of the baddys' plans. They're probably realistic.

* UPDATE: Brazilian government officials have recently denied that the 2007 blackout was the result of hacker action. The cause was apparently "pollution in the chain of insulators due to deposits of soot", as claimed in a report by Brazil’s independent systems operator group (Spanish).