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Mumbai blackout no cyber attack, but 'human error': Singh

   March 3, 2021 1:32 AM
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by ENS Economic Bureau - New Delhi

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India Cyber attack
The blackout that occurred in Mumbai on October 12 was not a result of a cyber attack, but due to "human error", said Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Power, RK Singh on Tuesday. The denial comes in the wake of a suggested link between the power outage in the city and a Chinese state-sponsored threat actor group known as Red Echo, which had been targeting India's power infrastructure with malware.

According to the minister, two separate teams have investigated the power grid failure, which led to electricity supply to the city being shut down for several hours. Some parts had gone without power for nearly 24 hours at that time. The first team of experts had investigated the outage soon after it had occurred.

The second team was sent afterwards to check for the possibility of a cyber attack being the cause of the grid failure. Both teams, in their reports, had found the incident to be a result of human error, said Singh. According to the minister, the cause of the outage was "scheduling errors". At the same time, Singh acknowledged cyber attack attempts on the country's Northern and Southern Regional Load Despatch Centres, adding that attempts to attack Mumbai's power system had also been made. According to him, around 30-40 Trojans were detected in the city's Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system, which aims to monitor and control field devices. However, the cyber attack attempts were limited to individual computers and servers and could not get to the central operating systems.

Even at the server-levels, the attackers were not able to extract any data, said Singh, adding that these servers had also been isolated and "sanitised".

The government has been "alert" about cyber attack attempts on its power infrastructure from before, as "any" transmission system is vulnerable to a cyber attack, said the minister.

At the same time, he said it was not possible to name a specific country as responsible for the attack attempts. While "some" had said that the group behind the malware was Chinese, the government doesn't have evidence to confirm it, he had said, adding that China would deny that the group was sponsored by them. On Sunday, a Massachusetts-based cybersecurity company, Recorded Future, published a report noting a "steep rise" in the use of resources like malware by a Chinese state-sponsored group called Red Echo to target "a large swathe" of India's power sector. In its analysis, the company had suggested a link between Red Echo's targeting of load despatch centres and the Mumbai blackout.

The contents of the study were reported by The New York Times last Sunday. The report said the findings suggested a link between the Galwan clash of June 2020 and the grid disturbance in Mumbai. The NYT report spoke of a "broad Chinese cybercampaign against India's power grid", timed as a "message from Beijing about what might happen if India pushed its border claims too vigorously".

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