The Wall Street Journal
Former CIA Director Warns About Cyber Threats From North Korea, reports
Such an attack would use electromagnetic radiation to potentially wipe out 70% of the U.S. electric grid and cripple U.S. defenses
Former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, Tuesday, said that the United States is at risk of a devastating cyber attack delivered by North Korea. Such an attack would use electromagnetic radiation to potentially wipe out 70% of the U.S. electric grid and cripple U.S. defenses, he said.
Iran could also soon possess this capability. But others say the chances of such an attack are low, citing more traditional cyber threats as the primary danger to U.S. interests.
“We could well within months have two rogue states that are capable of launching this type of attack against the United States as part of their information warfare cyber campaign,” said Mr. Woolsey, testifying, Tuesday, before the United States House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee Hearing on cyber threats and security solutions.
Such an attack could happen by detonating a nuclear weapon 30 kilometers or more above any part of the U.S. mainland. Electromagnetic radiation carried by the blast would produce current and voltage surges that could render the electric grid inoperable, he said.
This is of particular concern now because North Korea has nuclear capabilities and now has the ability to launch satellites, said Mr. Woolsey. Iran is also a threat, since it can launch satellites, but it does not yet have nuclear capabilities, he said.
While this type of attack is technically possible, others say the probability of such an attack is low. “It’s a threat that people have worried about for literally decades without any evidence that it has any basis in fact,” said James A. Lewis, director and senior fellow for the technology and public policy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
While it’s technically possible for an attack of this nature to cripple the electric grid, Mr. Lewis says he doesn’t think it likely that a country with a small nuclear arsenal would choose to waste a nuclear weapon on an attack that may fail.
Mr. Lewis maintains that the biggest cyber threat currently facing the United States is coming from Iran. “We know that the Iranians and others have done the reconnaissance for cyber operations and they’ve mapped out targets,” he said.
Players linked to Iran are believed to be responsible for a series of sophisticated distributed denial of service attacks directed against U.S. financial institutions, starting last September.
Still, Mr. Woolsey, who served as head of the CIA from 1993 to 1995, spoke with conviction and evoked a fair number of questions from the Congressional committee members about such an attack.
There is hardware that can help protect electric utilities. So-called Faraday Cages can shield transformers and other equipment against electrical fields. Mr. Woolsey recommended the government take leadership in setting standards for the implementation of such hardware and not leave it up to each utility to protect its own systems.
Mr. Woolsey noted that all of the critical infrastructures in the U.S. depend on electricity including food, water and natural gas and that the impact to citizens would be severe.
“The casualty estimates for the electromagnetic pulse attack in a [former] Congressional report are up in the range of two-thirds of the country dying under such an attack,” he said, because it would be difficult for people to get food and water in such a scenario.
Rachael King, Reporter, Wall Street Journal
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A related story from the Wall Street Journal:
How North Korea Could Cripple the U.S.
A single nuke exploded above America could cause a national blackout for months.
BY R. JAMES WOOLSEY AND PETER VINCENT PRY
Over the past three days, North Korea has launched six short-range guided missiles or projectiles in tests that landed in the Sea of Japan. The launches were of a piece with Pyongyang’s springtime custom of muscle-flexing, undertaken to extract concessions from the West in exchange for stopping the provocations. The Obama administration would do well to ignore these minor fireworks and focus on the much greater threat of a long-range North Korean missile carrying a nuclear warhead.
So far President Obama has seemed content to parry North Korea’s thrusts, much as his White House predecessor did. The George W. Bush …
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