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4/8/2009
02:02 PM
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U.S. Electrical Grid Breached By Cyber Spies

The intrusions were detected by U.S. intelligence agencies. In November, a congressional advisory committee warned that Chinese cyberattacks were increasing.

Cyberspies from China, Russia, and elsewhere around the globe have breached the U.S. electrical grid and installed backdoor software that could lead to future damage, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

"The Chinese have attempted to map our infrastructure, such as the electrical grid," an unidentified senior intelligence official told the Journal. "So have the Russians."

The report is uncharacteristic in its specificity: Incidents of cyberespionage can often be traced to a specific country, but definitively stating that those involved are acting on behalf of a foreign government is rare because cyberattacks usually come through proxies or compromised systems.

The Journal states that many of the intrusions were not detected by the companies operating the compromised infrastructure, but by U.S. intelligence agencies, which presumably have tools at their disposal to more accurately identify those conducting attacks.

Chinese and Russian officials denied any wrongdoing.

The idea that cyberspies are running rampant on U.S. networks and critical infrastructure is not new. In November, a congressional advisory committee warned that Chinese cyberattacks on civilian, government, and military networks were increasing.

"China is targeting U.S. government and commercial computers for espionage," said the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission's (USCC) 2008 Annual Report to Congress.

The USCC report stated that Alan Paller, research director at the SANS Institute, believes that in 2007 the unclassified networks of the 10 most prominent U.S. defense contractors, including Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman, were penetrated by cyberspies.

The 2007 USCC report summary offered a similar warning: "Chinese espionage activities in the United States are so extensive that they comprise the single greatest risk to the security of American technologies."

In early 2008, CIA senior analyst Tom Donahue confirmed that online attackers had caused at least one blackout in a city outside the United States.

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