Cyber sabotage led to October 2020 outage in Mumbai: Minister

Maharashtra says cyber crime probe hints at malware attack on MSEB servers

March 01, 2021 09:07 pm | Updated 09:07 pm IST - Mumbai

Commuters waiting in long queues for buses to reach their offices after Western Railway stopped their service between Borivali to Churchgate, due to power failure in Mumbai.

Commuters waiting in long queues for buses to reach their offices after Western Railway stopped their service between Borivali to Churchgate, due to power failure in Mumbai.

Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh on Monday said an investigation by the State cyber crime unit has shown a possible cyber sabotage of the Maharashtra State Electricity Board (MSEB) server resulting in power outage across Mumbai on October 12, 2020 .

Mr. Deshmukh’s statement comes in the backdrop of an exclusive report by the New York Times linking the power outage with alleged Chinese state-sponsored cyber intrusion , which had been tracked and revealed by U.S. cyber security and intelligence firm Recorded Future. The report said that the massive power outage may have caused by the Chinese malware.

“Maharashtra Power Department had sought an inquiry into the incident based on which we had asked Inspector General of the State cyber crime unit to conduct an inquiry. An analysis of Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition System (SCADA) has shown that there is a possibility that this incident was a cyber sabotage. The department has given a report which we have handed over to the Power Department,” said Mr. Deshmukh.

The preliminary report from the cyber crime unit pointed out three possible modes of sabotage — a malware attack on the server of the MSEB, transfer of 8 GB unaccounted data from foreign server to MSEB server and attempt by several blacklisted IP addresses to log into MSEB server.

When asked whether the report names any country as mentioned in the New York Times , Mr. Deshmukh said it was a preliminary report by the cyber crime team which will be submitted to the Power Department. “Based on this, further investigation will begin,” he said, without naming any country.

Maharashtra’s Power Minister Nitin Raut said, “I had expressed the possibility of sabotage, when the incident of October 12 took place. Based on that we had requested the State Home Department to conduct an inquiry. We are now in possession of the preliminary investigation report. I have also received reports from the central government and the MERC. Once we go through all these reports, we will initiate further action.”

Entire Mumbai and several parts of the larger Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) faced a power outage on October 12, bringing the business capital of the country to halt, including suburban trains. The first-of-its-kind outage was blamed on multiple tripping of power lines supplying power to these areas.

“Circuit 1 of 400KV GIS centre at Kalva-Padgha of MahaTransco was under repair and maintenance and the load was on Circuit 2. A technical problem in circuit 2 led to problems in power supply to Mumbai and Thane,” Mr Raut had then said.

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