Kevin Poulson over at Wired reports that a new National Journal report claims that Chinese hackers may have been responsible for a recent power outage in Florida and the big 2003 northeast blackout.

Kevin does a good job of ripping this report a new one, and I even learned about a SCADA bug I didn’t know about the contributed to the 2003 event.

I’m not going to get into the Chinese paranoia. Truth is, I have no doubt they both have advanced offensive cyber capabilities they use for intelligence gathering, and encourage the local hacking community to target us. Why not? Countries have been spying on each other ever since the creation of nations; no reason to think it will stop now because we’re too tied up watching American Idol to deal with it.

I sure as heck hope we’re doing the same to them; that’s what I pay taxes for.

But “cyberterrorism” and the 2003 blackout? Not so much. Unlike some I do consider cyberterrorism a legitimate concern for a nation-state, but I also consider the bar to be higher than any cyber event we’ve seen. If there isn’t serious loss of life or property that creates fear in a population for political or social goals, it ain’t terrorism. Sorry Estonia, we haven’t seen this yet, and I won’t be the idiot to predict it will happen in any given year. Bombs are a heck of a lot more effective at creating fear.

As for the blackouts, the various people I’ve talked with in the energy/utilities sector indicate that the Blaster virus may have played a part in slowing down control and communication systems, exacerbating the event. It’s not that Blaster brought down the power systems, but that it infected the Windows control workstations, messing up email, alerting, and control software (because it hosed the OS, not because it infected those bits). That drops everything to a more manual process and the automated SCADA safeties, which combined with everything else going on weren’t enough.

Could I be wrong? Absolutely; but it makes a lot more sense than Chinese hackers deliberately and successfully targeting our power grid. Not that I don’t think they aren’t capable, but there’s no evidence to indicate that occurred.

You can always tell when it’s budget and election season in Washington, especially in these days of national FUD.