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Scared of Anonymous? NSA chief says you should be

The director of the National Security Agency says the hacktivist group is growing more powerful and could eventually attack our power grid. So beware.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read

Anonymous has so far plied its trade in "hactivist" exploits. But according to the director of the National Security Agency, it might soon turn its focus to U.S. infrastructure.

According to the Wall Street Journal, citing sources, Gen. Keith Alexander has said in private meetings at the White House and elsewhere that the U.S. must keep a close eye on Anonymous' growth. He reportedly warned that if the organization continues to gain power, it might even take down a part of the U.S. power grid within the next couple of years.

How serious might such an attack on the power grid be? An industry official speaking to the Journal said that the U.S. grid has backups in place to safeguard against attacks. For a limited period of time, however, it could cause trouble.

The NSA's concerns about Anonymous underscore the power the loosely affiliated group of individuals has secured in recent months. The organization played a role in the scandal surrounding WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, retaliating after Assange's bank accounts were frozen and methods of donations cut off by credit card companies and payment services like PayPal. Anonymous has continued to target individuals and organizations, all with the goal of embarrassing them or revealing what it believes is are injustices.

Anonymous has made no indication that it plans to attack the power grid. And its hacks, while decried by government officials, are celebrated by others who say the group is acting on the average citizen's behalf.

Lately, however, Anonymous has turned its attention toward governments. Earlier this month, the hacking collective claimed to have taken down the CIA's Web site, as well as sites for the Mexican Senate and Interior Ministry. The group also revealed that it accessed identifying information, including Social Security numbers and criminal records, of 46,000 Alabama residents.

Those hacks came just days after Anonymous released hundreds of e-mails purported to come from Syrian President Bashar al Assad's office.

Securing the electrical grid from both hackers and other governments has been a concern for years. So far, however, the U.S. government can't quite decide which agency should be charged with managing its security.

In December, MIT researchers issued a report saying that a single federal agency should be safeguarding the electrical grid. The Obama Administration has argued that the Department of Homeland Security should handle the task, while members of Congress have called on the Department of Energy or Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to take over.

Regardless, MIT isn't convinced that the threats to the electrical grid are something to be too concerned about. The researchers said that only complacency could lead to its downfall.

"Between now and 2030, the electric grid will confront significant new challenges and inevitably undergo major changes," the researchers said. "Despite alarmist rhetoric, there is no crisis here. But we do not advise complacency."