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No 'Sabotage' Behind Mumbai Power Outage, Chinese Hacking Attempt a Month Later: Power Minister

Power Minister RK Singh. (Twitter)

Power Minister RK Singh. (Twitter)

A team of experts in their report to the Power Ministry blamed the engineer and operator on duty for lapses that lead to outage in Mumbai, Power Minister R K Singh told CNN-News18.

Rubbishing claims that the Mumbai power outage in October last year was the result of a Chinese cyber-attack or possible sabotage, Union Power Minister R K Singh told CNN-News18’s Arunima that the cause was instead “human error”. A team of experts in their report to the Power Ministry blamed the engineer and operator on duty for lapses that lead to the outage in Mumbai, Singh said.

Singh’s remarks came after Maharashtra Energy Minister Nitin Raut said that the Mumbai outage was caused by a cyberattack” and it was an act of “sabotage”. Interacting with media persons, Raut said the state government, the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC) and the Central Electricity Authority had set up separate committees to probe the cause of the power outage and their reports have been received. “We had then complained to the cyber cell and their report is awaited. But the preliminary information I have, there definitely was a cyber attack and it was sabotage,” he said.

“We had sent a team to Mumbai and their conclusion was that there were some mistakes by the operators and those who handle state transmission system. So they have identified the point where mistakes happened and I will be writing to state government so that they can call for an explanation and take action,” Singh asserted contradicting Raut.

On the New York Times report which claimed Chinese attempts to attack India’s power grid, the Union power minister said such an attempt was made but he said it was in November, a month after the Mumbai blackout. “Some cyber-attack/hacking attempts were made at our load dispatch centre in November and our CERT-IN sort of alerted our centre. Those centres carried out an audit. The points which the hackers tried to breach were blocked,” he said.

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The power minister gave the assurance on the safety of the grid and said steps were taken in July last year after a report from Power Experts highlighted the threat to the grid from cyber attacks. “Our operating system of the grid is totally isolated. Nobody can reach our OS (operating system). There were some other comps which are not linked to the OS and were operated by personnel which some hackers tried to reach in November… but now those also have been sanitised,” he said.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

Q) Was China responsible for the outage in Mumbai?

A) We had sent a team and their conclusion was that there were some mistakes made by operators and those who handle state transmission system. They have identified the point where mistakes were made and I will be writing to the state government so that they can call for an explanation and take action. Some cyber-attack/hacking attempts were made at our load dispatch centre in November and our CERT-IN sort of alerted our centres and those centres carried out an audit; the points which the hackers tried to reach were blocked.

Our operating system (OS) of the grid is totally isolated. Nobody can reach our OS. There were some other computers that are not linked to the OS which were operated by personnel, those (one or two) hackers tried to reach in November. Now, those also have been sanitised but the two incidents are different.

Q) The Mumbai incident happened in October, CERT-IN alert was in November, so did the experts specifically study the Mumbai malfunction?

A) The Mumbai case was studied and experts have found out mistakes. The human errors have been identified, which were made at some lower level. The report has come to the Ministry and we are analysing it. We will write to the state to take appropriate action.

Q) Maharashtra home minister says there was sabotage, you are saying human error, there is a contradiction.

A) Yes, absolutely. There is a contradiction. Human error can be called sabotage only if there is a malafide intention and so far we have no proof to show malicious intent by any engineer or worker. No evidence to show any anti-national tendency amongst any workers.

Q) If you don your hat as a former home secretary and senior defence ministry officer, what do you have to say about China’s intention? There is a Reuters report which is even alleging an attempt to carry out cyberattacks against India’s Covid vaccine programme. As far as China’s intentions are concerned, are you worried?

A) I have been worried about the cyber threat to India’s power system. It is interconnected, it is digital. Everything is one grid. You bring down one part and you can bring down the entire grid. So we set up a committee a couple of years back. They gave a report and we came up with an order in July 2020 whereby we said – imported equipment will have to be thoroughly checked for malware and trojans before they are accepted. All our people who operate the system are very aware.

first published:March 01, 2021, 21:17 IST