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Feds quiz former worker over Texas power plant hack

Danger danger! High voltage!

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A former employee at a Texas power utility was arrested late last week over accusations he crippled its energy forecast system after launching a hacking attack.

FBI agents made the arrest on Thursday after raiding the home of Dong Chul Shin, a former worker at Energy Future Holdings. EFH owns three Texas electricity generating outfits that run facilities including the Comanche Peak nuclear power plant. Dong was dismissed back in March over allegations he failed to pull his weight at work.

Hours after the no-notice sacking, Dong's VPN access account (which was left active) was allegedly used to log into the corporate intranet before modifying and deleting files. Proprietary company information was also transferred to a personal webmail account linked to Dong, investigators further allege.

Emails sent to engineers at the Comanche Peak nuclear reactor during this hack questioned the safety of the reactor if the load were to be "increased to 99.7 per cent of capacity". Dong's role included controlling the management of EFH power generation facilities, including the Comanche Peak reactor.

Dong faces accusations that the hacking attack he allegedly carried out created a threat to public health or safety. However, charges detailed so far only involve less serious charges that Dong's actions crippled an energy forecast system for a day back on 4 March, specifically an Excel file, leaving EFH unable to sell excess capacity and resulting in losses of $26,000.

This type of an attack wouldn't lead to an outage much less imperil plant safety, control system security expert Joe Weiss told Wired. "The people in Texas aren’t going to see their lights flicker as a result of this. This is an economic issue," Weiss said. ®

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