Could Anonymous Really Knock Out the Power Grid?
A scene near the end of the movie 'V for Vendetta.'
CREDIT: Warner Bros. Pictures
Despite National Security Agency director Gen. Keith Alexander's reported concerns that the Anonymous hacking group might try to attack the North American power grid, experts consider such a scenario to be extremely unlikely and Anonymous spokemen dismiss the whole idea as "ridiculous."
In an article in today's (Feb. 21) Wall Street Journal, reporter Siobhan Gorman writes that Alexander, in private meetings at the White House, has said Anonymous "could have the ability within the next year or two to bring about a limited power outage through a cyberattack."
Unnamed energy-industry officials told the Journal that Anonymous currently doesn't have the capabilities to carry out such cyberattacks against infrastructure. Alexander has never officially voiced his concerns about Anonymous attacking a power grid, Gorman wrote.
It's possible that as Anonymous develops its weapons and continues to head in what Gorman called "a more disruptive direction," the threat the group poses to national security could become increasingly more significant.
Does Anonymous want this?
Quick to respond to the Wall Street Journal article, Anonymous took to its AnonOps Communications blog: "Ridiculous!" the group wrote. "Why should Anonymous shut off power grid? Makes no sense! They just want to make you feel afraid."
"Why would Anons shut off a power grid?" reads a tweet from the @YourAnonNews feed. "There are ppl on life support / other vital services that rely on it. Try again NSA. #FearMongering"
Jerry Brito, senior research fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, told SecurityNewsDaily that Anonymous has never made a threat to the electrical grid or to any physical infrastructure.
While it's "technically feasible" and a "theoretical possibility," Brito said, it's not a capability Anonymous has, or, he adds, will have anytime soon.
"They are projecting that they may gain the capability three to five years in the future, but I'm not sure what will change in that time," Brito said.
Why hasn't it happened?
George Smith is a senior fellow at GlobalSecurity.org. He told SecurityNewsDaily that not only has Anonymous never threatened an attack like the NSA claims, but that if such an attack were possible, it would have happened already.
"Talk is cheap in cyberspace," Smith said. "Restraint, however, is not. If someone could have easily done this — and they can't — they wouldn't have been able to resist doing it just for bragging rights."
Smith said hackers have always bragged about "being able to turn out the lights," and the imagined threat has become a talking point for politicians and lawmakers.
"People who talk about cyberwar and what can be done have abused this one for well over a decade," he said. "I have materials in my files predicting the lights will be turned out that are well over ten years old."
Could Anonymous even do this?
To support her claim that Anonymous is moving away from pranks and denial-of-service attacks and toward more disruptive and possibly disastrous activities, Gorman cited Operation Global Blackout, a purported Anonymous plan to shut down the Internet on March 31.
Anonymous is now claiming OpGlobalBlackOut was fake, an April Fool's joke that the media ran with.
"GlobalBlackOut is another Fake Operation," AnonOps wrote on its Twitter feed this morning. "No intention of #Anonymous to cut Internet."
"Why would #Anonymous take down their playground?" Josh Bryan commented on the tweet. "Of course it's fake."
Brito told SecurityNewsDaily an Internet shutdown is "not technically feasible" the way Anonymous described it. "The Internet is much more resilient than Anonymous — or those who would have us panic — think."
While Anonymous "has certainly been increasingly active," Brito does not believe the group is becoming more dangerous, or has any intention to.
"The hacks they engage in are certainly disruptive, but they only amount to defacing or taking down websites and hacking email or phone accounts. Well-funded and well-run operations by foreign governments can be far more disruptive," Brito said.
What's driving the hype?
If Alexander's claims came across as overblown or bordering on fear mongering, there's a reason for that, Brito said.
"I think the incentives of the military and government officials is to prepare for the worst," he told SecurityNewsDaily. "We were surprised by the Sept. 11 attacks, and no administration or military official wants to have another surprise on their watch."
Brito added, "As a result, their incentive is to warn about the worst-case scenarios, even if they are unlikely. Also, to the extent resources are allocated based on risk, they have an incentive to make the threat seem as dangerous as possible.
This story was provided by SecurityNewsDaily, a sister site to TechNewsDaily.