Could Anonymous, the infamous mask-wearing "hacktivist" group, launch a successful attack against global power networks? Anonymous isn't claiming any such thing, but Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, has suggested that it's possible, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The Journal cites people familiar with the matter noting that Alexander provided his assessment in meetings at the White House. Alexander has also publicly stated his concern over cyberattackers' potential abilities to attack computer networks. And he's not the only security specialist who is concerned.
"It's a real threat," James Lewis, a cybersecurity specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Journal. "You want to occupy Wall Street? How about turn Wall Street off? Even for a day."
Anonymous gained fame last year when it issued a hit list of Web sites hostile to WikiLeaks. The group went on to attack PayPal and MasterCard, which had stopped donations to WikiLeaks after the U.S. government shut down the site. Earlier this year, Anonymous, took down the Web site of Strategic Forecasting, a global intelligence firm that deals in business, economic, security and geopolitical affairs. But could Anonymous really take down global power grids?
"The power grid is not accessible via the Internet so Anonymous would have to have physical access to a control room in order to do any damage -- at least this is my understanding," said Jonathan Spira, author of Overload!, a recently published book on information overload and chief analyst at Basex, a technology think tank. "In the larger scheme of things, as more and more platforms and services are connected to the Internet, the risk for any kind of attack does in fact increase."
Spira isn't alone in his assessment. MIT researchers in December issued a report that suggests little reason for concern over threats to the electric grid.
"Between now and 2030, the electric grid will confront significant new challenges and inevitably undergo major changes," the researchers said. "Despite alarmist rhetoric, there is no crisis here. But we do not advise complacency."
Anonymous Up in Arms
Anonymous is up in arms over the accusations. The YourAnonNews Twitter account, which often serves as a virtual spokesman for the group, tweeted: "Why would Anons shut off a power grid? There are ppl on life support / other vital services that rely on it. Try again NSA. #FearMongering."
But Kollektiv, a group affiliated with Anonymous, went further than words. The group launched a flash-mob attack on Facebook pages of the Journal's German edition. Among the posts was this:
"Dear editors of the German Wall Street Journal, You equated Anonymous with Al Qaeda in your February 2012 article and the related coverage. With this type of coverage you may be able to stir up fear in the United States, but not in the land of poets and thinkers!
"With this comment, we would like to oppose the deliberate dissemination of false information and express our displeasure with your lobby journalism. We are Anonymous. We are millions. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us!"