blind_html [Fwd: Electricity Grid in U.S. Penetrated By Spies]

  • From: Nimer <nimerjaber1@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: blind_html@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 09 Apr 2009 09:18:43 -0600

-------- Original Message --------
Subject:        Electricity Grid in U.S. Penetrated By Spies
Date:   Thu, 9 Apr 2009 01:48:59 -0000
From:   Ray T. Mahorney <coffee-craver@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Reply-To:       Blind-chit-chat@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
To:     <blind-chit-chat@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>





APRIL 8, 2009

Electricity Grid in U.S. Penetrated By Spies

By SIOBHAN GORMAN
Wall Street Journal

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123914805204099085.html <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123914805204099085.html>

WASHINGTON -- Cyberspies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and
left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system,
according to current and former national-security officials.

The spies came from China, Russia and other countries, these 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 espionage appeared pervasive across the U.S. and doesn't target a
particular company or region, said a former Department of Homeland
Security official. "There are intrusions, and they are growing," the
former official said, referring to electrical systems. "There were a lot
last year."

Many of the intrusions were detected not by the companies in charge of
the infrastructure but by U.S. intelligence agencies, officials said.
Intelligence officials worry about cyber attackers taking control of
electrical facilities, a nuclear power plant or financial networks via
the Internet.

Authorities investigating the intrusions have found software tools left
behind that could be used to destroy infrastructure components, the
senior intelligence official said. He added, "If we go to war with them,
they will try to turn them on."

Officials said water, sewage and other infrastructure systems also were
at risk.

"Over the past several years, we have seen cyberattacks against critical
infrastructures abroad, and many of our own infrastructures are as
vulnerable as their foreign counterparts," Director of National
Intelligence Dennis Blair recently told lawmakers. "A number of nations,
including Russia and China, can disrupt elements of the U.S. information
infrastructure."

Officials cautioned that the motivation of the cyberspies wasn't well
understood, and 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.

But protecting the electrical grid and other infrastructure is a key
part of the Obama administration's cybersecurity review, which is to be
completed next week. Under the Bush administration, Congress approved
$17 billion in secret funds to protect government networks, according to
people familiar with the budget. The Obama administration is weighing
whether to expand the program to address vulnerabilities in private
computer networks, which would cost billions of dollars more. A senior
Pentagon official said Tuesday the Pentagon has spent $100 million in
the past six months repairing cyber damage.

Overseas examples show the potential havoc. In 2000, a disgruntled
employee rigged a computerized control system at a water-treatment plant
in Australia, releasing more than 200,000 gallons of sewage into parks,
rivers and the grounds of a Hyatt hotel.

Last year, a senior Central Intelligence Agency official, Tom Donahue,
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.

The U.S. electrical grid comprises three separate electric networks,
covering the East, the West and Texas. Each includes many thousands of
miles of transmission lines, power plants and substations. The flow of
power is controlled by local utilities or regional transmission
organizations. The growing reliance of utilities on Internet-based
communication has increased the vulnerability of control systems to
spies and hackers, according to government reports.

The sophistication of the U.S. intrusions -- which extend beyond
electric to other key infrastructure systems -- suggests that China and
Russia are mainly responsible, according to intelligence officials and
cybersecurity specialists. While terrorist groups could develop the
ability to penetrate U.S. infrastructure, they don't appear to have yet
mounted attacks, these officials say.

It is nearly impossible to know whether or not an attack is
government-sponsored because of the difficulty in tracking true
identities in cyberspace. U.S. officials said investigators have
followed electronic trails of stolen data to China and Russia.

Russian and Chinese officials have denied any wrongdoing. "These are
pure speculations," said Yevgeniy Khorishko, a spokesman at the Russian
Embassy. "Russia has nothing to do with the cyberattacks on the U.S.
infrastructure, or on any infrastructure in any other country in the world."

A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Wang Baodong, said
the Chinese government "resolutely oppose[s] any crime, including
hacking, that destroys the Internet or computer network" and has laws
barring the practice. China was ready to cooperate with other countries
to counter such attacks, he said, and added that "some people overseas
with Cold War mentality are indulged in fabricating the sheer lies of
the so-called cyberspies in China."

Utilities are reluctant to speak about the dangers. "Much of what we've
done, we can't talk about," said Ray Dotter, a spokesman at PJM
Interconnection LLC, which coordinates the movement of wholesale
electricity in 13 states and the District of Columbia. He said the
organization has beefed up its security, in conformance with federal
standards.

In January 2008, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved new
protection measures that required improvements in the security of
computer servers and better plans for handling attacks.

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.

Specialists at the U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit, a nonprofit research
institute, said attack programs search for openings in a network, much
as a thief tests locks on doors. Once inside, these programs and their
human controllers can acquire the same access and powers as a systems
administrator.
NERC Letter

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation on Tuesday warned
its members that not all of them appear to be adhering to cybersecuirty
requirements. Read the letter.

The White House review of cybersecurity programs is studying ways to
shield the electrical grid from such attacks, said James Lewis, who
directed a study for the Center for Strategic and International Studies
and has met with White House reviewers.

The reliability of the grid is ultimately the responsibility of the
North American Electric Reliability Corp., an independent
standards-setting organization overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission.

The NERC set standards last year requiring companies to designate
"critical cyber assets." Companies, for example, must check the
backgrounds of employees and install firewalls to separate
administrative networks from those that control electricity flow. The
group will begin auditing compliance in July.

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