Cyper-spies from China, Russia and elsewhere have gained access to the US electrical grid and have installed malware tools designed to shut down service, according to a news report.
So far, the attackers have not used their access to damage the electrical grid, but the cyber-espionage appears "pervasive," said a Wall Street Journal article that quoted anonymous national security officials. US officials worry that the spies could use their access to attempt to shut down the grid or take control of power plants during a time of crisis or war, the story said.
Many of the intrusions weren't discovered by electric utilities but by US intelligence agencies, the story said.
The cyber-spies have left behind "software tools" that could be used to destroy components of the grid, the Journal quoted one official as saying. "If we go to war with them, they will try to turn them on," one official told the Journal.
US lawmakers and some security experts have raised concerns for several years about the security of the power grid and other control systems. In a congressional hearing in March, Joseph Weiss, managing partner of control systems security consultancy Applied Control Solutions, said networks controlling US industrial control systems have been breached more than 125 times in the past decade, with one resulting in US deaths.
It could take the US weeks to replace damaged equipment after co-ordinated attacks on infrastructure using control systems, Weiss said then. A coordinated attack "could be devastating to the US economy and security," he said. "We're talking months to recover. We're not talking days."