Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Has the power grid been penetrated by enemies?

This Wall Street Journal article "Electricity Grid in U.S. Penetrated By Spies" is an example of "yellow journalism". It makes eye catching claims whose only source is anonymous government officials, backed up by pseudo-experts that nobody has heard of before.

The source of this story probably has to do with this:
Last week, Senate Democrats introduced a proposal that would require all critical infrastructure companies to meet new cybersecurity standards and grant the president emergency powers over control of the grid systems and other infrastructure.
There's no coordinated conspiracy here, but there are a lot of government officials who stand to gain by this attempt at drastically increasing government control over the Internet. They will certain call up reporters they know and attempt to get them to write scare stories precisely like this.

Another quote from the story is:
Last year, a senior Central Intelligence Agency official, Tom Donohue, told a meeting of utility company representatives in New Orleans that a cyberattack had taken out power equipment in multiple regions outside the U.S. The outage was followed with extortion demands, he said.
I know of a similar story, told to me by the people who investigated the incident. It appeared that hackers had broken into the power control systems (in a country outside the US), caused a small blackout, and had made ransom demands. As it turns out, it was an inside job, not an attack from the outside. Both the outside "hacker" and the inside guy (who flipped the appropriate switch to cause a blackout) were arrested and put in jail. (The timing and details are similar enough that it's my guess the stories refer to the same incident).

Notice how my story has an ending, whereas Tom Donohue's story doesn't. Seriously, how could the CIA not know how the story turned out. The hackers made ransom demands, but then what?

My conclusion is that the CIA and/or Tom Donohue is lying. They are claiming something to be solid research which is only vague innuendo and rumors.


drhodes said...

Great insight!

Anonymous said...

I would say the same with all the Conficker nonsense! What say you?

Robert Graham said...

I would say the same with all the Conficker nonsense! What say you?

Conficker is a big deal. Of course, nothing is so big that it cannot be blown way out of proportion.

Marcus Adair said...

Sadly some people mistakenly equate recognition of what's likely to be propaganda, or at least only part of the story with the general awareness of stupid conspiracy theorists and their black helicopters.

Sam Liu said...

The same old argument...can we trust the media?

Robert Graham said...

The same old argument...can we trust the media?

Absolutely we can. The trustworthiness of stories is evident in their construction. This story contains (1) sensationalist content, (2) anonymous sources, (3) dubious experts, and (4) recycled content. Thus, we know this story is not trustworthy.

On the other hand, other stories identify sources, document their research, have qualified experts, and the like. Those stories are trustworthy.

It's like a doctor who says "this is not going to hurt". You can trust your doctor, and it's going to hurt.

Anonymous said...

If the US military, and our utilities infrastructure for that matter, are using our public internet for anything import they are idiots. There is no technical or financial reason to do so. There is plenty of unused fiber already laying the ground waiting to used.

Perhaps the real issue here is the US military is providing political cover for the likes of US Senator Jay Rockefeller , of the Rockefeller fortune(who recently asked ‘would it have been better if we had never invented the internet’) and various other financial and political elites who are finding more and more the peoples free flow of information the internet provides a threat to their strangleholds on power.

I suspect this will become a more serious issue to the elites as their continued actions collapse the financial system and the economy leaving citizens are deprived of their savings, pensions and employment, as they have done many times in the past.

Beware of any misleading news stories suggesting we need to shut the internet down to keep us safe. It is quite the opposite I can assure you.

Anonymous said...

Let's hope our incessant movie watching will help us navigate the propaganda on this one...

"OK, uh, well, the whole point of a fire sale is that it's mostly done by remote, right? But not everything is run completely online. Major utilities aren't. They're run by closed circuits, so you could breach the security, but to shut it down you'd have to physically go there. You'd have to show up." ~Live Free or Die Hard

patrickinmpls said...

they wouldn't tell us about a real breach, because that's national security. its obviously agit-prop. nice find btw.

Robert Graham said...

they wouldn't tell us about a real breach

I think they would. The companies themselves want to cover-up, but the government wants people to be afraid, in order to justify why government needs more control.

More importantly, if it was proven that the breach was by a foreign government, then that would be an act of war, and the government would respond accordingly.