Foreign cyber-spies have infiltrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software that could be used to tamper with the system in the event of a war, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
"The Chinese have attempted to map our infrastructure, such as the electrical grid," a senior intelligence official told the Journal. "So have the Russians.”
There is no immediate damage from the clandestine infrastructure mapping, but officials fear these and other systems, such as water, sewage, nuclear power and financial infrastructure systems could be hijacked in the event of a crisis.
The intrusions were discovered by U.S. intelligence agencies who hesitated to implicate foreign governments in the infrastructure espionage because of the difficulty in tracking cyber criminals.
Officials from Russia
disavowed any knowledge of the spying.
"These are pure speculations," Yevgeniy Khorishko, a spokesman at the Russian Embassy, told the Journal. "Russia has nothing to do with the cyberattacks on the U.S. infrastructure, or on any infrastructure in any other country in the world."
Wang Baodong, a spokesman from the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C.
also distanced his country from the incidents.
“[The Chinese government] resolutely oppose[s] any crime, including hacking, that destroys the Internet or computer network,” he said. “…some people overseas with Cold War mentality are indulged in fabricating the sheer lies of the so-called cyberspies in China."
A cyber attack on a piece of infrastructure such as the electrical grid could have catastrophic impact on the U.S. perhaps cutting power to major portion of the country.
As a cautionary tale, officials point to an incident in Australia in 2000 when a cyber criminal released 200,000 gallons of sewage into national parks.
"Over the past several years, we have seen cyberattacks against critical infrastructures abroad, and many of our own infrastructures are as vulnerable as their foreign counterparts," Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair
recently told lawmakers. "A number of nations, including Russia and China, can disrupt elements of the U.S. information infrastructure."
Cybersecurity is large component of the Obama administration’s national security goals. A Pentagon official told the Journal that they have spent $100 million in the past six months repairing cyber damage. Under the Bush administration Congress approved $17 billion in secret funds to protect government networks, a figure which may grow in the next few years as the current administration considers extending those funds to private computer networks.