by Daily Sabah with Agencies
Apr 03, 2015 12:00 am
The cause of a massive blackout on Tuesday across Turkey is still unknown, but amid speculations, a top official announced yesterday that a cyberattack might be among the possibilities. He cautiously added that it is still too soon to know what exactly happened to cause the massive power outage that affected much of the country on Tuesday. Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yıldız spoke to the press yesterday and reiterated much of his statement released on Tuesday, assuring the public that the cause would be discovered after a meticulous probe that would leave no stone unturned.
"We are looking into the case, investigating the causes but I can't single out any reason out of three," he said, referring to an "intervention," "manipulation" or "technical causes."
It seems like the minister was as baffled as the public about the sudden power outages that gripped the country in the morning hours on Tuesday before the resumption of power almost nine hours later in some cities. One thing remains certain, however, according to Yıldız. Power plants in the southern city of Adana and the western city of İzmir experienced problems almost simultaneously, and it triggered further outages throughout the national grid. The minister said the outage was unprecedented save for partial outages during the major earthquake in 1999.
Yıldız highlighted that they had a technical capacity to monitor the grid "second-by-second." "We observed that the outage in one area triggered another elsewhere, but we cannot say for sure what triggered it, whether (it) is an intervention, technical reasons and manipulation or not," he said.
The minister is confident about Turkey's energy transmission system and the staff who operate it. On the question of whether it was a direct result of a cyberattack, Yıldız said, "It is too early to speak about it for certain. But it is a possibility."
A cyberattack of such scale can technically be launched pending enough resources, according to experts. Media outlets had reported that a cyberattack had caused the explosion in an oil pipeline in eastern Turkey seven years ago. As the power grids became more up-to-date with technology and rely on it for effective management and productivity, they are also more vulnerable to cyberattacks.
Speaking to Bloomberg, David Emm - a principal researcher at the Moscow-based security company Kaspersky Lab Inc. - said, "More and more attacks are targeting the industrial control systems that run the production networks of critical infrastructure, stealing data and causing damage."
Uğur Yüksel, coordinator of Turkey's Electricity Distributors' Association, is among the energy experts who believe that the installation of computerized systems make grids more vulnerable.
"The more you use telecommunication systems and the Internet, the more exposed you are to cyberattacks," Yüksel told Bloomberg. "The best way to minimize the threat of cyberattacks on grids is to start using closed networks that employ Internet-based communication selectively," he added.
Yıldız told reporters that hacking into encrypted phones and other such attacks are not new to Turkey, "as we have seen last year," referring to wiretapping allegations linked to members of the controversial Gülen Movement who reportedly tapped into encrypted phones of then prime minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other senior officials.
The minister also highlighted that the United States also suffered from a 36-hour blackout in 2003, as well as several European countries, including Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia, which were left without electricity for 18 hours on various dates. "This is something that can happen even in developed countries," he said.
Yıldız also ruled out that the blackout was a result of scarce energy resources. "On the contrary, Turkey has a surplus power supply," he stressed.
The sudden blackout that paralyzed daily life and brought metros and trams to a halt in Turkey's major cities, also raised concerns about reliability of the power grid regarding the connection to the continental European grid. The Turkish Electricity Transmission Company (TEİAŞ) will sign an agreement for the connection in the coming weeks. But Konstantin Staschus, Secretary-General of the Organization of European Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E), said that, on the contrary, the blackout alleviated concerns. He told Reuters that it demonstrated Turkey had safeguards in place to prevent the spreading of a blackout, and that the connection to the European grid, currently in a trial period, helped the country recover faster. "The protection schemes have worked; the disturbance did not spread anywhere in Europe. From that perspective, the signature should go forward as planned," he said.