A day after Maharashtra energy minister Nitin Raut claimed that the power outage in Mumbai in October last year was caused by a "cyberattack" and it was an act of "sabotage", Union Power Minister RK Singh has ruled out any act of sabotage and said that it was instead a result of “human error”.
Speaking to CNN-News18, Singh said the grid failure was due to some mistakes by the operators and those who handle state transmission system. The minister stated that this was the conclusion of the team sent to Mumbai.
Explaining further on the New York Times report that claimed Chinese attempts to attack India’s power grid, the minister informed that such an attempt was made in November, a month after the Mumbai blackout in October.
For the uninitiated, on October 12 last year, a grid failure in Mumbai resulted in a massive power outage, stopping trains on tracks, hampering those working from home amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and hitting economic activity hard.
Followed by the power outage, talking to The Free Press Journal, Raut had hinted at the possibility of a cyber-attack.
China had launched a cyber campaign against India's power grid, targeting Mumbai on October 13 last year, in a warning message after the tension at the Ladakh border, NYT reported.
NYT's report said a new study lends weight to the idea that those two events may have been connected, as part of a broad Chinese cyber campaign against India's power grid, timed to send a message that if India pressed its claims too hard, the lights could go out across the country.
"The study shows that as the battles raged in the Himalayas, taking at least two dozen lives, Chinese malware was flowing into the control systems that manage electric supply across India, along with a high-voltage transmission substation and a coal-fired power plant", NYT said.
The report said the flow of malware was pieced together by Recorded Future, a Somerville, Massachusetts, company that studies the use of the internet by state actors. It found that most of the malware was never activated."
And because Recorded Future could not get inside India's power systems, it could not examine the details of the code itself, which was placed in strategic power-distribution systems across the country. While it has notified Indian authorities, so far they are not reporting what they have found," NYT said.
Stuart Solomon, Recorded Future's chief operating officer, said the Chinese state-sponsored group, which the firm named Red Echo, "has been seen to systematically utilize advanced cyber intrusion techniques to quietly gain a foothold in nearly a dozen critical nodes across the Indian power generation and transmission infrastructure."
The discovery raises the question about whether an outage that struck the financial capital in October was meant as a message from Beijing about what might happen if India pushed its border claims too vigorously, NYT said.
(With inputs from agencies)