Anonymous already has a diverse set of tactics, including showing up to awards ceremonies. But the NSA is worried that its cyberattacks could bring about power outages across the US.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the NSA, has described in private meetings how "Anonymous could have the ability within the next year or two to bring about a limited power outage through a cyberattack". These concerns haven't been aired publicly, but rather reported by people familiar with the gatherings.
While up to now Anonymous has largely been in the habit of embarrassing large corporations—though it has done for a law firm—federal officials worry that the organization only wants to become more disruptive. Indeed, Anonymous has mentioned a plan to shut down the internet on March 31, which it refers to as Operation Global Blackout.
That is extremely unlikely. Similarly, widespread power outages as a result of attacking the power gird would be difficult to orchestrate, and instead any such attack would likely be isolated and limited in size. Fortunately, the power sector is bracing itself for such problems. "The industry is engaged and stepping up widely to respond to emerging cyber threats," one electric-industry official told the WSJ.
While we can comfort ourselves over the fact that these attacks would be small and short-lived, that's not really the point. If Anonymous demonstrates an ability to attack the power grid, that doesn't just affect corporations and organizations: it affects the public in a tangible way. The resulting sense of submission and helplessness is what is most worrying—and after an attack like that, who knows what we could expect next? [Wall Street Journal; Image: Getty]