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1998-04-16 19:04:27


Hackers Can Shut Down Power Grid, Military Admits



A team of military hackers proved that they could cripple the U.S. by using hacking programs available on the Web. The U.S. military is almost completely vulnerable. So is the power grid.

The world hangs by a very slender thread. Y2K will break this thread.

This story appeared in the WASHINGTON TIMES (April 16).

* * * * * * *

Senior Pentagon leaders were stunned by a military exercise showing how easy it is for hackers to cripple U.S. military and civilian computer networks, according to new details of the secret exercise.

Using software obtained easily from hacker sites on the Internet, a group of National Security Agency officials could have shut down the U.S. electric-power grid within days and rendered impotent the command-and-control elements of the U.S. Pacific Command, said officials familiar with the war game, known as Eligible Receiver.

"The attack was actually run in a two-week period and the results were frightening," said a defense official involved in the game. "This attack, run by a set of people using standard Internet techniques, would have basically shut down the command-and-control capability in the Pacific theater for some considerable period of time." . . .

The secret exercise began last June after months of preparation by the NSA computer specialists who, without warning, targeted computers used by U.S. military forces in the Pacific and in the United States.

The game was simple: Conduct information warfare attacks, or "infowar," on the Pacific Command and ultimately force the United States to soften its policies toward the crumbling communist regime in Pyongyang. The "hackers" posed as paid surrogates for North Korea. . . .

According to U.S. officials who took part in the exercise, within days the team of 50 to 75 NSA officials had inflicted crippling damage.

They broke into computer networks and gained access to the systems that control the electrical power grid for the entire country. If they had wanted to, the hackers could have disabled the grid, leaving the United States in the dark.

Groups of NSA hackers based in Hawaii and other parts of the United States floated effortlessly through global cyberspace, breaking into unclassified military computer networks in Hawaii, the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Command, as well as in Washington, Chicago, St. Louis and parts of Colorado.

"The attacks were not actually run against the infrastructure components because we don't want to do things like shut down the power grid," said a defense official involved in the exercise. "But the referees were shown the attacks and shown the structure of the power-grid control, and they agreed, yeah, this attack would have shut down the power grid." . . .

The attackers also foiled virtually all efforts to trace them. FBI agents joined the Pentagon in trying to find the hackers, but for the most part they failed. Only one of the several NSA groups, a unit based in the United States, was uncovered. The rest operated without being located or identified.


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