Friday, March 5, 2010

Hacking the Power Grid

This is old hat in the computer security community, but I thought many of the readers of this blog might appreciate it. The really cool part starts at about 1:20 where they show video of an official government experiment in which they physically destroyed a 27 ton diesel generator just by hacking the network control interface.

Hacking and physically damaging a material fraction of the power grid would, I think, be pretty much the end of civilized life in the target country for a long time.  It's not easy to do - it requires a lot of specialized knowledge and skills - but it almost certainly is possible and there are specialized offensive cyber-attack units in various countries that are tasked with knowing how to do this kind of stuff (there have been persistent rumors that the Chinese were involved in the North East power grid outage of 2003, but it's never been confirmed and might well be speculation).


Michael said...

Why would the Chinese have wanted to do such a thing?

Datamunger said...

Well, now, there's at least a partial solution to AGW: get Stuart to release that grid-eating worm he has in his pocket and buy us all a little time! ;-)

brett said...

this was on Fresh Air a last month as well:

Stuart Staniford said...


The most obvious speculation would be that they wanted to test out the capability in case they ever needed it. Another possibility was that it was some out of control set of patriotic Chinese hackers that weren't really doing a government plan.

However, it's at least as likely, or more, that it was really just beltway-bandit speculation being recited to reporters as fact. The computer security community has a strong tradition of a lot information sharing being done in the bar late at night at conferences. This is because no-one is allowed to officially report the true situation at their employer, and so the only good information often does come after the fourth or fifth beer. However, I think this can also lead to lots of wildly inaccurate rumors circulating which are not readily distinguishable from truth.

Stuart Staniford said...


Being as how the authorities have gone and gotten all humorless about that kind of thing, let me just note that I don't advocate any kind of violent or illegal activity in order to make a political point.