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Hackers may bring down India’s power grids

 It is possible for an adversary or a group of hackers to cripple India's power grids through a cyber-attack, although this is an unlikely reason for the recent power outages that crippled much of north, east and north-eastern India.

Since the first power trip up on Monday, there have been discussions within the security establishment about the possibility of entities trying to carry out a sophisticated cyber-attack to cripple the grids.

Officials who carried out an audit of critical information infrastructure admit it is "theoretically possible" to cripple India's power grids through a cyber-attack.

Despite such a possibility, the shutdown did not seem to have led to a crisis management procedure that aimed at ruling out or confirming a cyber-attack.

"Given the fact that our grids are vulnerable to a cyber-attack, those responsible for managing grids should have a proactive policy to rule out cyber-attack as part of their crisis management procedures," a senior official said. "But none of it was visible," he added.

Sources aware of contacts among power ministry, power grid authorities and those in both CERT-IN (Computer Emergency Response Team-India) and NTRO (National Technical Research Organisation) say there was no proactive effort by those responsible for power grids.

However, both CERT-IN and NTRO are believed to have established their own procedures to ensure the shutdowns were not a cyber-attack, having been brought on by massive over-the-limit withdrawals by states to supply electricity for pumps tapping groundwater in the absence of rainfall during this monsoon.

Officials said the government is now discussing possible ways to speed up the setting up of National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre (NCIPC), which would act as the command and control centre for monitoring the critical information infrastructure of the country. NCIPC was recently approved by the National Security Council headed by the Prime Minister.

Sources said the government is also planning to hold a national consultation of all stakeholders involved in critical information infrastructure.

The government is already setting up dedicated CERT-INs for various critical sectors such as power and civil aviation.

Officials point out to breaches reported from power grids in the US, cyber intrusion into the Iranian nuclear network and other such incidents around the world to warn that India needs to have a more robust crisis management procedure that includes proactive ruling out of cyber-attacks.