Report: Cyberspies penetrate U.S. electrical grid

The Wall Street Journal reports cyberspies have penetrated the U.S. electricity grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the nation’s power system.

The newspaper cited current and former U.S. national security officials, saying the spies came from China, Russia, and other countries, and were believed to be on a mission to navigate the U.S. electrical system and its controls. The growing reliance of utilities on Internet communications has increased the vulnerability of control systems.

The intruders have not sought to damage the power grid or other key infrastructure but officials said they could try during a crisis or war, the paper said April 8 in a report on its Internet site.

“The Chinese have attempted to map our infrastructure, such as the electrical grid,” a senior intelligence official told the Journal. “So have the Russians.”

NERC: �There is definitely more to be done’

The North American Electric Reliability Corp., an independent organization responsible for grid reliability, set standards in 2008 requiring companies to designate critical cyber assets and establish procedures for protecting them. NERC responded to the Journal story, acknowledging cyber security is an area of concern.

�Though we are not aware of any reports of cyber attacks that have directly impacted reliability of the power system in North America to date, it is an issue the industry is working to stay ahead of,� NERC said. �NERC and industry leaders are taking steps in the right direction to improve preparedness and response to potential cyber threats. There is definitely more to be done…�

In 2008, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission required improvements in the security of computer servers as well as better planning to handle cyber attacks.

A former Department of Homeland Security official told the Journal the espionage appeared pervasive across the United States and does not target a particular company or region. Officials said water, sewage, and other infrastructure systems also were at risk.

“There are intrusions, and they are growing,” the former official told the paper. “There were a lot last year.”

Authorities investigating the intrusions have found software tools left behind that could be used to destroy infrastructure components, the senior intelligence official said.

“If we go to war with them, they will try to turn them on,” he said.

Protecting the grid and other infrastructure is a key part of the Obama administration’s cybersecurity review, which is to be completed this month. The administration did not comment immediately on the newspaper report.

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