When security researcher Brian Wallace looked into a hacking incident at the University of California, Santa Barbara, he was surprised to find that Iranians hackers were the culprits.
This incident, along with others that have occurred at power plants and energy grids across the nation, have led to an in-depth investigation. The findings are grim: the Islamic Republic of Iran may have the ability to attack the United States internally via information gathered from the country's all-important power grid.
“If the geopolitical situation changes and Iran wants to target these facilities,” says former US Air Force cyberwarfare operations officer Robert M. Lee, “if they have this kind of information it will make it a lot easier. It will also help them stay quiet and stealthy inside.”
Iranian hackers frightened the country in 2013 when they managed to infiltrate the control system of a dam near New York City. The Calpine breach, which began that same year, has given hackers access to engineering drawings of more than 70 power stations and networks in the US. So what could our enemies do with the sensitive information they have obtained from the power grid?
They could cause a nationwide blackout.
Our power grid grows more vulnerable with each passing day as it grows older and more outdated. Smart meters – which nearly 50% of Americans use to measure electricity usage for their homes – are also vulnerable to hacking. In addition, the fact that power plants are hooked up to the Internet provides hackers with even more opportunities.
And America’s cybersecurity forces are not where they should be.
If the US doesn’t “protect the energy sector, we are putting every other sector of the economy in peril,” said Deputy Energy Secretary Elizabeth Sherwood Randall earlier this year.