Employment of hacker in power utility questioned after power outage

Published 02.06.2015 21:53

An investigation into a nationwide power outage in Turkey in March revealed that a man allegedly involved in hacking into computer systems of public agencies was employed in the command center of the country's power grid.

In March, Turkey was rocked by a massive power outage that disrupted life for hours. An initial inquiry has found the outage was linked to the mismanagement of the grid and the grid director has stepped down. Authorities had acknowledged that grid officials continued maintenance work on transmission lines despite the outage risk in carrying out simultaneous maintenance across the country.

Although officials ruled out a cyberattack, further inquiry into the cause of the outage revealed an unidentified IT technician working at the command center of the grid was a hacker accused of hacking into public agencies' computer networks.

Turkish media outlets reported that the technician was employed by the state-owned Turkish Electricity Transmission Company (TEİAŞ) running the grid in 2010 and was detained in 2012 on charges of hacking. He was released and resumed his work at the TEİAŞ. He was later promoted and assigned to detect problems in command centers of power plants. The Turkish media reported that the man was involved in hacking into bank accounts, the networks of the National Library and a ministry.

The investigation is still underway and it is not yet clear whether the "hacker" was involved in the power outage. However, the media reported that the man had admitted to a "botnet" attack targeting a university's web page. He was reportedly working for computer security companies offering services to public agencies when he hacked into the systems.

Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Taner Yıldız, had mentioned a cyberattack in statements after the outages.

A cyberattack of such scale can technically be launched depending on enough resources, according to experts. Media outlets reported that a cyberattack had caused the explosion in an oil pipeline in eastern Turkey seven years ago. As the power grids become more up-to-date with technology and rely on it for effective management and productivity, they also become more vulnerable to cyberattacks.

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