TAMRON HALL: And a report this morning in the Wall Street Journal claims cyberspies have penetrated our electrical grid and left behind software that can actually be used later against us.
National intelligence officials are pointing to China and Russia as possible culprits here. While no one has done any damage yet, officials warn all bets could be off during a war or another type of crisis.
Joining us now is Steve Emerson – a terrorism expert. So Steve, this certainly sounds ominous, but put this in perspective for us. And, who are these cyberspies at work?
STEVEN EMERSON: Well, first of all, Tamron, there are lots of cyberspies. They have been at work for as long as the internet has been around, almost. They usually probe different grids around the world; the United States is not the only one country that has been subject to this.
Now, we don't know at this point whether it was actually official Russian subjects, or official Chinese subjects – it could have been just hackers or it could have been people who are intellectually curious and a little bit invasive. But, then again, there is also a commercial interest in the part of Russia and China to see what grids are vulnerable. They want to have contingency plans in case there is some type of cyber war that breaks out.
And, as you know, there are three separate electrical grids in the United States and the U.S. Government has pointed out repeatedly that they are subject and vulnerable to being hacked in or manipulated. Congress has appropriated $17 billion to fix the problem, but it hasn't been fixed yet.
HALL: So, tell us perhaps the worst-case scenario here of what would happen, for example, if these cyberspies were able to carry out whatever plans they have?
EMERSON: Well, remember that they could hack into many systems. Electric grid obviously controls the power. So remember a couple of years ago, there was a blackout rolling from Chicago to the Northeast, and it was assumed that that was a terrorist cyber-attack. But it wasn't; it turned out to be somebody who pulled the wrong switch.
So obviously the ability to manipulate our power grid can devastate our economy if they ever wanted to employ that method.
HALL: Steve, is enough being done to protect us?
EMERSON: There can never be enough done because the hackers – you only need one smart hacker – a brilliant guy who doesn't need more than $20 to figure out how to get into the system.
About seven years ago – or eight years ago – some hackers got into the Pentagon military system from Russia and obtained classified memos, and it cost the Pentagon over $50 million immediately to fix that problem.
HALL: Alright, Steve, well thank you very much. We certainly appreciate your insight and perspective on this problem.