CIA Launches Hunt for International Computer Hackers Threatening to Hold Cities Ransom By Shutting Off Power
cyber power attacks have particularly alarmed the White House
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January 18, 2008
By William Lowther
UK Daily Mail
The CIA has launched a major hunt for international computer hackers who are threatening to throw cities into chaos by sabotaging their electricity supplies.
In a shock announcement last night the American spy agency said that the hackers were running a massive extortion plot.
They are threatening to cut off city lighting and power supplies unless they are paid huge sums of ransom money.
And according to senior CIA analyst Tom Donahue the hackers have already proven that they can disrupt the utilities by causing blackouts in several cities outside the US.
The CIA has refused to provide further details but intelligence sources say that the cities where the hackers have caused outages were in Central and South American countries including Mexico.
Photo: Hackers are threatening to hold cities ransom by shutting off power (file photo)
The sources said that in no case was a ransom paid and that the outages lasted for only a few minutes. It is not known if the hackers have made any further threats.
"Nevertheless, there is the potential for causing disastrous problems," said the sources.
Mr Donahue, speaking at a security summit in New Orleans, told utility engineers that the CIA believes that some of the hackers had inside knowledge to cause the blackouts.
The sources said that the agency believes the hackers involved are criminals primarily interested in extorting money and that they are not radical terrorists with a political agenda.
"In at least one case, the disruption caused a power outage affecting multiple cities," said Mr Donahue.
He added: "We do not know who executed these attacks or why, but all involved intrusions through the Internet."
The cyber power attacks, revealed for the first time by Mr Donahue, have particularly alarmed the White House.
Members of the Bush administration believe that highly skilled terrorist hackers may now follow the extortionists' lead and try to disable power, water and chemical plants in the US and Western Europe.
Last year the US Department of Homeland Security found a flaw in the computer programmes controlling a giant electric generator.
In a simulated test they showed how hackers could send messages to the generator through the Internet which would cause a violent reaction.
Under extreme circumstances it was possible, they said, that hackers could even make the generator explode.