back to article Chinese crackers blamed for US power blackouts

Chinese hackers have been blamed for two sets of cyber attacks that left US homes without electricity in recent years. Two blackouts in Florida and the Northeast were at least partially caused by Chinese crackers, computer security experts told the National Journal Magazine. The magazine bases its claims principally on Tim …


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  1. Dominic Kua

    My bike was nicked once

    How can I tie that into Chinese crackers?

    It's clear they're probably to blame for Princess Di's death and Maddie too. The power cut last week in the UK? That was the Chinese too.

    Alien, because the truth is out there (and being downloaded by the Chinese.)

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Alien spaceships did it

    The report into the outage said it was the failure to trim trees under the powerlines, they didn't trim the trees, the power lines were under heavy load running aircon in hot weather, got hot, sagged, touched the trees and bingo, line failure plus cascade failure since the network was at capacity and there wasn't enough slack in the system for the other transmission lines to take up the load.

    The solution recommended was to invest in more power stations (slack capacity to cover the high load states), and keep the trees under the power lines trimmed so they don't short the cables.

    But I, Steve Spaucerman, specialist in all things alien, know it was the saucermen of Tau Seti. Their saucers create an ionizing field around them, that's how their zytron drive works. That ionizing field shorted out our power circuits and crippled our national infrastructure.

    It was a test I tell you, they're testing our infrastructure in preparation for an invasion!

    Fortunately, with my knowledge of their technology, I can help you defend against these alien attacks and look, I got the 'National Journal Magazine' to run a story so it must be true!

  3. Anonymous Coward

    Chinese Crackers


  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As someone famous famously said,

    "Pull the other one; it's got bells on it."

    And wtf is up with that bloody survey popup? How many times am I supposed to fill it in?

  5. Julian Cox
    Paris Hilton

    Crackers vs Hackers: my joy was short lived

    You have no idea how excited I was to see a reputable source (well... a source) using the term Cracker to refer to someone who accesses a system unauthorised and with malicious intent.

    You have even less idea how disappointed I was to see the next paragraph refer to these same self people as 'Hackers', which I've always reserved for those of us who can hack together code/solution to fix a problem. Similar skills but VERY different intent.

    Then they revert to crackers again - are there two groups at play here?

    Apparantly the headline writer was simply going for a cheap gag and the author was not the enlightened individual I'd hoped.

    Paris, as apparantly she's a cracker in front of a camera... (so I've heard)

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Chinese crackers blamed for death of US woman?

    So, does that mean they were responsible for the death of this woman?

  7. Jamie Kitson


    Your sub heading seems to suggest that the motive behind the blackout was the removal of firewalls, but surely a) if they can cause a power station to go off line they are accomplished enough to get through a mere firewall b) if the firewall goes down (ie, is not on a UPS) then the machine it protects goes down too.

  8. Drew
    Black Helicopters

    Intelligence or Incompetence?

    Couldn't have been good, ol' American incompetence now, could it?

  9. EL Vark

    No, no, it was us, I admit it.

    Within minutes of the lights coming back on, NYC mayor Bloomberg had himself a press conference in which he blamed the entire incident on Canada. I don't recall any retractions or apologies when the trees were made to shoulder the blame, so I'm here to go on record to say yes, it was us. In fact it was me. A conspiracy of vast proportions gone horribly awry, that left me stuck in a hospital elevator for half an hour until the emergency power was brought online. After that I took the stairs when visiting me mum and rethought the whole "take down the eastern seaboard and chunks of the midwest" strategy. I'm really very sorry.

  10. Edward Noad
    Jobs Horns

    Funny that.... should suddenly turn out to be the Chinese in an act of international aggression against America. So either:

    1) a (private intelligence contractor / conflict-of-interested politician / corporate advisor to the previous)* is making it up to keep everyone on edge and continue making uber-profits from the privatised War On Terror.

    2) a massive faliure by America's untelligence people has just been miraculously exposed 5 years after the incident itself.

    I don't know which of those senarios scares me more. Goddamn Neocons with their cut-backs / privatisation.

    *delete as prejudiced

  11. Anonymous Coward


    How about just calling them "malicious hackers", or simply "criminals" instead of "crackers", which reminds me of the tiny crunchy goldfish edibles, or uptight Caucasian rednecks in Georgia? The distinction between "hackers", "crackers", and or Chevy "Trackers" is probably lost on the average John Q. Public end-user anyway, much like the difference between "good" and "bad" cholesterol.

    And good luck digging for the truth in this situation. It seems like it's probably just a cascade failure instead of PLO crackers or aliens, or a kid whacking a power pole with a stick. Occam's razor applies here I think.

    It seems to me that if someone is prepared to voice conspiracy theories, that a little substantiated proof would be nice as well, instead of just inciting the herd to stampede.

  12. Ross Killip

    @Julian cox

    I'd always understood cracker = harware, hacker = software (as well as the more usual usage of 'oh, i just hacked it together' code monkey speak )(as i am one, i think i'm allowed to call it)

  13. Steve Mann


    The cause of The Blackout was laid out in a lengthy report, easily findable with Google, which can be summarized as follows:

    1) Take all your knowledgeable senior people and fire them.

    2) Replace them with Bright Young Things with little to no experience in the field of long range power generation and transmission.

    3) Centralize your monitoring in a state-of-the-art computer-controlled facility.

    4) Hire your compuer personnel in line with policy 2.

    5) Place fingers in ears and wait for inevitable results.

    No Chinese Black Hats needed. Just lots of home-grown old-school incompetence and lack of foresight. I have no doubt everyone reading this is familiar with the process.

    Note that by computerizing the control infrastructure, then hiring people to manage the computers who had not the faintest idea of the relevance of their operation in the world outside, a potentially serious situation was made into a disaster. The server that provided the monitoring displays had hung, and the extended process of bringing it up was obviously one of fixing a computer NOT of restoring vital monitor functions to the control center for the power distribution over a huge area of Ohio. Phone calls came in from outlying regions saying "We're observing shorts in the power lines" and a quick look at the (malfunctioning) computer-generated gauges produced the reply "We're not seeing a problem. You must be mistaken."

    Gotta love that bottom line thinking that got rid of the only people who knew what they were doing ALL the time, not just when things weren't about to get broken big time.

    But yeah, much more comfortable to go with mythical "Chinese Hackers". I'm only surprised they weren't the hated French.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Chinese whispers

    Thats why its been kept hush hush so far...

    "And wtf is up with that bloody survey popup? How many times am I supposed to fill it in?" - FireFox with NoScript = none ;)

  15. Jolyon Ralph

    Hackers vs Crackers and all that nonsense

    So, a hacker could be someone who hacks into networks, or it could be a hairy linux programmer. The usage depends on the context. Does it really matter? Was anyone truly confused about the usage in this context?

    For me anyway, Crackers are people who remove software protection from commercial software, rather than Hackers, who log into networks without permission. I've always thought it odd that the term 'Crackers' was misused as well without people moaning as they do about 'Hackers'.

    I'll stop complaining about the misuse of the term 'Cracker' if everyone else stops moaning about the right usage for 'Hacker'.

    Ok? :)

  16. Anonymous Coward

    Sounds like a dry run

    for shutting down illicit torrenting of Beijing Olympics coverage

  17. Unlimited


    I thought "hacker" was a general term for thereg journalists

  18. Anonymous Coward

    Hackers vs Crackers: the definitive answer.

    A "hacker" is someone who is skilled in the art of manipulating automated systems, whether legitimately or illegitimately, whether by programming or by feeding input to them, whether by supplying valid or invalid data or whatever; it's about having technical chops, the curiosity and persistence to go taking things apart to find out how they work, and a logical mind.

    Whereas a "cracker" is a redneck hillbilly from the deep south USA.

    Ah, my coat. Yes, it's the one up on bricks in the front-yard, no tires, rusting gently, with a couple of hound-dogs snoozing on the flatbed.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Too many coincidences?

    The blackout in question coincidentally occurred at pretty much the same time as the MS Blaster worm was spreading. It is already accepted that Blaster reduced the authorities' ability to respond, not just that "it may have hampered communications". Some insiders wonder if Blaster had a larger role than has been admitted to date. Blaster didn't originate in China, it was written by a US resident/citizen.

    The article in the National Journal coincidentally appeared at around the same time as a report from the House Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity and Science and Technology said of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation: ""I think we could search far and wide and not find a more disorganized, ineffective response to an issue of national security of this import. If NERC doesn't start getting serious about national security, it may be time to find a new electric reliability organization." - reported on El Reg a few days ago

    That's at least one coincidence too many, and possibly two.

  20. Andy Bright

    You what?

    Chinese white people shut off our leccy? Typical, now even Al Quaeda are contracting out to Asia..

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Hacker versus cracker

    A hacker is someone who writes a bit of a code that is unusual and perhaps opens up a new field in IT, or is thrown in as a quick fix.

    A hacker knows their systems so well they can hack in a solution fast, then comeback later to do it properly.

    A hack is a bit of code that is particularly, clever but is not orthodox.

    Perl for example is a hacked together language created by a hacker. And is full of hacks. Speed to stdout is faster than basic orthodox compiled C code, that is because of hacking. Perl is also finding it very hard to release a new version, and that is also because of all the hacks in it.

    A cracker is someone who cracks into software, being on a network, harddrive, main memory is immaterial.

    Cracking is the art of exploiting software.

    Hacking is the art of creating new ideas and using the technology in innovative ways.

    Now cracking is hacking, if and only if the person doing the cracking is doing it in a new innovative way, or perhaps doing it on the fly. But they are still cracking, they are distinct descriptors.

    A DDoS attack nowadays, is a crack, but when it was found it was a hack. If it was used to cause instability then it was a crack, but if it was tested in controlled environment then it was a hack.

    Cracking is breaking into secured software, so breaking the authentication mechanisms, or exploiting a bug, to cause the system to crash, or to give access where the design did not allow.

    Whereas a hack may use a bug to keep a system stable.

    Of course there is a grey area, but in practice it is quite obvious when cracking or hacking is occurring. But, grey areas such as using a worm to patch systems, generally fall into the realm of a crack, because you don't have authority to alter the state of other people's machines, and it may cause instability, but if you were to pull it off with no one negatively effected, that would be considered a hack. And a security company that notices some small signature may patch in a quick hack to the scanner perhaps, and then redo later.

    And the hairy linux programmer idea, may also annoy those in the BSD camp, who claimed the hacker name a long time ago.

    It is not so much an ethical thing really, but that is where people get annoyed, it is more to do with the intention and the action.

    And I applaud El Reg for doing their bit, in using the correct terminology.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hacks can become patterns

    If a hack is found to be valid, then it is moved up to a pattern, but that normally requires quite a rigorous hack in the first place, and only a few manage to move up the chain.

    And a lot of patterns are based off hacks that have been refined.

    I noticed the word hacker in the main article as well, but it may very well be valid.

    The headline is cracker because that is what has happened. But, getting into the power system probably required some hacking skills along the line. It would be unfair to put hacker in the headline, but the article will probably include it. If the exploit was well known, then no hacking skills required apart from the ability to run a script and change some configs. But, in this instance they probably used some new exploits, well at least found something new in the system to attack.

  23. Charles Manning

    Untrimmed trees- hah!

    "the failure to trim trees under the powerlines, they didn't trim the trees, the power lines were under heavy load running aircon..."

    Yes, but the aircon was cooling Google servers being accessed by Chinese hackers, so it is still the Chinese hackers' faults!

    See! Still their fault.

  24. Bruce Sinton

    Hacker /Cracker

    I thought I understood the difference before this discussion , but now I am confused

    Almost as confused as Confucius will be.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Trouble with Chinese crackers... hour later you are still hungry!

  26. b

    far fetched fantasy

    another non factual guessing game with his own prejudice. may as well claim they are hacking me too,, because there is a list of chinese origin in my firewall log....I'll ignore the fact that it is coinciding with ports of infected machines and game servers, but hey, they are out to get us...

  27. Julian Cox

    always causes a stir

    I've given up worrying about the hacker vs cracker distinction in reality simply because no two people will completely agree, but I do like some of the comments above.

    To sum up, logically I accept (=> means implies):

    Cracker => Hacker

    ...but do not accept ...

    Hacker => Cracker.

    However I do love dropping these debate bombs every now and then to see the passion it can evoke over such matters: Now where's a thread where I can raise the "should the opening braces of a block of code go at the end of a line or be indented the same as the closing brace" debate ;-)

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Julian Cox

    Let me guess - you're one of those guys who uses 'gibibytes'...

  29. David

    @David Wiernicki

    WTF is a 'gibibytes'?

  30. Anonymous Coward


    It's an idiotic term created from whole cloth by do-gooder wannabe standards people which they claim is now the "real" gigabytes - eg, 1024mb instead of 1000mb (though really it's by the byte, which I can't be bothered to calculate).

    Basically it's a way to legitimize hard drive makers' incorrect usage of GB/MB/KB with the simultaneous benefit to its the adherents of collective ego-stroking.

    So instead of kilobytes for 1024 bytes, you're supposed to say 'kibibytes'. Check wikipedia for a case study in this - it appears that there's a whole crew of these morons busily changing all instances of kb, mb, gb, tb, etc.

  31. David
    Thumb Up

    @David Wiernicki

    Thank you.

    Now I wish I hadn't asked.


  32. Chris C

    Chinese crackers hack gibibytes to take down the WOPR

    First, I agree with Julian. While it is obvious from this thread that people have different ideas of what hackers and crackers are, I still remember a time when the terms were not used interchangeably. A time when the term hacker was something to be proud of, not something that caused suspicion.

    Second, don't we have enough problems without resorting to useless speculation? We're at war (officially or unofficially, take your pick) with Iraq and Afghanistan, and probably Iran as well. We've got North Korea we still feel we need to keep an eye on. We'll always keep our eyes on Cuba (the reasons for which the government never says). And now we want to fuel speculation and conspiracy theories to create a rift between us and China. Are we actively seeking Cold War II? I know China is communist, and it's probably the only communist country we're accepting of (gee, I wonder why that could be), but do we really want another Cold War? I imagine we, the citizens, don't. Not that that ever stopped the government from doing anything.

    Third, I find it very telling that the government actually has a "counterintelligence" department or agency. Sadly, I think we can safely take that term at face value.

    Lastly, while I personally don't like the terms kibi-, mebi-, and gibibytes, their existence does make sense when you consider kilo, mega, and giga are scientific prefixes with defined values. Just because the computer industry changed their values when referring to bits and bytes didn't make it a good idea, and didn't make it right. How would people react if the definition of liter/litre was different depending on whether you were measuring water or gasoline? What if the definition of gram was different depending on whether you were measuring chocolate or explosives? Standards are good. They're even better when specific industries don't hijack their definitions.

  33. brian turner

    National Liberation Army

    The fact that it is the People's Liberation Army and not the National really leads me to believe this article is pure junk.

    If the researcher can't even get that right what about the rest of it?



  34. Jim

    Inside sauce told me...

    ... it was the Fortune Cookies, and not the Chinese crackers...

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