Skip to Content

Hackers Have the Power to Switch Off American Grid Systems

September 6, 2017

And it's just a matter of time until they decide to use it. So says new research from Symantec, which finds that hackers have now infiltrated Western power infrastructure deeply enough to sabotage national power grids.

The firm claims to have seen at least 20 cases across America, Turkey, and Switzerland where criminals gained so-called operational access to energy facilities. In theory, that provides them with the ability to send commands to devices like circuit breakers to turn them off. For more details about the hack itself, this Symantec blog post is worth a read. But Eric Chien from the security firm neatly sums up the seriousness of the situation in an interview with Wired:

There’s a difference between being a step away from conducting sabotage and actually being in a position to conduct sabotage ... being able to flip the switch on power generation. We’re now talking about on-the-ground technical evidence this could happen in the US, and there’s nothing left standing in the way except the motivation of some actor out in the world.

Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported a number of hacks targeting companies that run U.S. energy facilities, including the Wolf Creek nuclear plant in Kansas. Symantec hasn't explicity linked the attacks it has observed, which are being referred to as Dragonfly 2.0, to that news. But speaking with Reuters, Chien did say that there may be a connection.

The newly observed attacks are the closest any hacker has yet come to sabotaging U.S. power grids. But as we’ve reported before, hacks in Ukraine have shown it’s certainly possible to cause widepsread power outages. Now it’s the West’s turn to worry.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

The inside story of how ChatGPT was built from the people who made it

Exclusive conversations that take us behind the scenes of a cultural phenomenon.

How Rust went from a side project to the world’s most-loved programming language

For decades, coders wrote critical systems in C and C++. Now they turn to Rust.

Design thinking was supposed to fix the world. Where did it go wrong?

An approach that promised to democratize design may have done the opposite.

Sam Altman invested $180 million into a company trying to delay death

Can anti-aging breakthroughs add 10 healthy years to the human life span? The CEO of OpenAI is paying to find out.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.