* Original: FROM..... Dave Farber
BTW Pat Wood is a very good person who actually wanted to be at the FCC
------ Forwarded Message
From: Fred Langa < >
Date: Sat, 12 Mar 2005 10:33:57 -0500
Subject: "Hackers target U.S. power grid" (wash post)
Describing his reaction to the demonstration [of how easily hackers
might break into electrical grid computers] Patrick H. Wood III, the
chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said: 'I wished
I'd had a diaper on.'"
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Hackers target U.S. power grid
Government quietly warns utilities to beef up computer security
By Justin Blum
The Washington Post
Updated: 8:33 a.m. ET March 11, 2005
WASHINGTON - Hundreds of times a day, hackers try to slip past
cyber-security into the computer network of Constellation Energy Group
Inc., a Baltimore power company with customers around the country.
"We have no discernable way of knowing who is trying to hit our system,"
said John R. Collins, chief risk officer for Constellation, which operates
Baltimore Gas and Electric. "We just know it's being hit."
Hackers have caused no serious damage to systems that feed the
nation's power grid, but their untiring efforts have heightened
concerns that electric companies have failed to adequately fortify
defenses against a potential catastrophic strike. The fear: In a
worst-case scenario, terrorists or others could engineer an attack
that sets off a widespread blackout and damages power plants,
prolonging an outage.
Patrick H. Wood III, the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission, warned top electric company officials in a private meeting
in January that they need to focus more heavily on cyber-security.
Wood also has raised the issue at several public appearances.
Officials will not say whether new intelligence points to a potential
terrorist strike, but Wood stepped up his campaign after officials at
the Energy Department's Idaho National Laboratory showed him how a
skilled hacker could cause serious problems.
Wood declined to comment on specifics of what he saw. But an official
at the lab, Ken Watts, said the simulation showed how someone could
hack into a utility's Internet-based business management system, then
into a system that controls utility operations. Once inside, lab
workers simulated cutting off the supply of oil to a turbine
generating electricity and destroying the equipment.
Describing his reaction to the demonstration, Wood said: "I wished I'd
had a diaper on."
Many electric industry representatives have said they are concerned
about cyber-security and have been taking steps to make sure their
systems are protected. But Wood and others in the industry said the
companies' computer security is uneven.
"A sophisticated hacker, which is probably a group of hackers
... could probably get into each of the three U.S. North American
power [networks] and could probably bring sections of it down if they
knew how to do it," said Richard A. Clarke, a former counterterrorism
chief in the Clinton and Bush administrations.
Clarke said government simulations show that electric companies have
not done enough to prevent hacking. "Every time they test, they get
in," Clarke said. "It's nice that the power companies think that
they've done things, and some of them have. But as long as there's a
way to get into the grid, the grid is as weak as its weakest company."
Some industry analysts play down the threat of a massive cyber-attack,
saying it's more likely that terrorists would target the physical
infrastructure such as power plants and transmission lines. James
Andrew Lewis, director of technology policy at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies in the District, said a
coordinated attack on the grid would be technically difficult and
would not provide as much "bang for the buck" as high-profile physical
attacks. Lewis said the bigger vulnerability may be posed not by
outside hackers but by insiders who are familiar with their company's
But in recent years, terrorists have expressed interest in a range of
computer targets. Al Qaeda documents from 2002 suggest cyber-attacks on
various targets, including the electrical grid and financial institutions,
according to a translation by the IntelCenter, an Alexandria firm that
studies terrorist groups.
Power grid seen as vulnerable
A government advisory panel has concluded that a foreign intelligence
service or a well-supported terrorist group "could conduct a
structured attack on the electric power grid electronically, with a
high degree of anonymity, and without having to set foot in the target
nation," according to a report last year by the Government
Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.
Cyber-security specialists and government officials said that
cyber-attacks are a concern across many industries but that the threat
to the country's power supply is among their top fears.
Hackers have gained access to U.S. utilities' electronic control
systems and in a few cases have "caused an impact," said Joseph
M. Weiss, a Cupertino, Calif.-based computer security specialist with
Kema Inc., a consulting firm focused on the energy industry. He said
computer viruses and worms also have caused problems.
Weiss, a leading expert in control system security, said officials of
the affected companies have described the instances at private
conferences that he hosts and in confidential conversations but have
not reported the intrusions publicly or to federal authorities. He
said he agreed not to publicly disclose additional details and that
the companies are fearful that releasing the information would hurt
them financially and encourage more hacking.
Weiss said that "many utilities have not addressed control system
cyber-security as comprehensively as physical security or
cyber-security of business networks."
The vulnerability of the nation's electrical grid to computer attack
has grown as power companies have transferred control of their
electrical generation and distribution equipment from private,
internal networks to supervisory control and data acquisition, or
SCADA, systems that can be accessed through the Internet or by phone
lines, according to consultants and government reports. That
technology has led to greater efficiency because it allows workers to
operate equipment remotely.
Other systems that feed information into SCADA or that operate utility
equipment are vulnerable and have been largely overlooked by
utilities, security consultants said.
Some utilities have made hacking into their SCADA systems relatively
easy by continuing to use factory-set passwords that can be found in
standard documentation available on the Internet, computer security
The North American Electric Reliability Council, an industry-backed
organization that sets voluntary standards for power companies, is
drafting wide-ranging guidelines to replace more narrow, temporary
precautions already on the books for guarding against a
cyber-attack. But computer security specialists question whether those
standards go far enough.
Officials at several power companies said they had invested heavily in
new equipment and software to protect their computers. Many would
speak only in general terms, saying divulging specifics could assist
"We're very concerned about it," said Margaret E. "Lyn" McDermid,
senior vice president and chief information officer for Dominion
Resources Inc., a Richmond-based company that operates Dominion
Virginia Power and supplies electricity and natural gas in other
states. "We spend a significant amount of time and effort in making
sure we are doing what we ought to do."
Executives at Constellation Energy view the constant hacking attempts
-- which have been unsuccessful -- as a threat and monitor their
systems closely. They said they assume many of the hackers are the
same type seen in other businesses: people who view penetrating
corporate systems as fun or a challenge.
"We feel we are in pretty good shape when it comes to this," Collins
said. "That doesn't mean we're bulletproof."
Old equipment may be a threat
The biggest threat to the grid, analysts said, may come from power
companies using older equipment that is more susceptible to
attack. Those companies many not want to invest large amounts of money
in new computer equipment when the machines they are using are
adequately performing all their other functions.
Security consulting firms said that they have hacked into power
company networks to highlight for their clients the weaknesses in
"We are able to penetrate real, running, live systems," said Lori
Dustin, vice president of marketing for Verano Inc., a Mansfield,
Mass., company that sells products to companies to secure SCADA
systems. In some cases, Dustin said, power companies lack basic
equipment that would even alert them to hacking attempts.
O. Sami Saydjari, chief executive of the Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.-based
consulting firm Cyber Defense Agency LLC, said hackers could cause the
type of blackout that knocked out electricity to about 50 million
people in the Northeast, Midwest and Canada in 2003, an event
attributed in part to trees interfering with power lines in Ohio. He
said that if hackers destroyed generating equipment in the process,
the amount of time to restore electricity could be prolonged.
"I am absolutely confident that by design, someone could do at least as
[much damage], if not worse" than what was experienced in 2003, said
Saydjari, who was one of 54 prominent scientists and others who warned the
Bush administration of the risk of computer attacks following Sept. 11,
2001. "It's just a matter of time before we have a serious event."
Copyright 2005 The Washington Post Company
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