Chief inspector says cyberterrorism may have been behind great Java blackout, calls for police investigation

“Cliche Hacker and Binary Code” by David Whelan / Flickr
“Cliche Hacker and Binary Code” by David Whelan / Flickr

The massive blackout that turned off the lights throughout much of Java on August 4 became a massive scandal for state power utility PLN, who claimed the outage was caused by incidents at multiple points within their power grid. But the police were also charged with investigating the cause of the electrical failure, and last week they said their preliminary findings were that tall trees touching power lines were likely culprits.

However, there is reason to believe that there may have been more sinister forces than overgrown foliage behind the great Java blackout. That’s according to the head of the National Police’s Criminal Investigation Department (Bareskrim), Inspector General Idham Azis, who said yesterday that cyberterrorism could have been the true cause of the blackout and that he had called upon the police’s cybercrime division to investigate it.

“Terrorists have led to cybercrime, fraud, drugs and maybe even the previous blackout. I told (the director of the cybercrime division) and his staff to please investigate whether this is just an ordinary blackout in Jakarta or something to do with cybercrime,” Idham said yesterday as quoted by Tirto.

Idham did not give any specific details that led him to suspect that cyberterrorism could have been behind the blackout in Java, but he did speculate that major power outages that hit Caracas, New York and London in recent months could be connected.

A major blackout hit London and other parts of Britain last Friday when two U.K. power plants shut down almost simultaneously. The exact cause of that electrical failure has not been determined but investigators have thus far not suggested cyberterrorism as a possible cause. New York City was also hit by a major power outage in mid-July, but authorities there ruled out that cyberterrorism could have been a cause

A major power outage in Venezuela plunged the capital of Caracas into darkness in mid-July and authorities there have claimed that it was caused by an electromagnetic attack on a hydroelectric dam. However, Caracas has suffered several similar power outages in recent months (including one in March) and observers suspect that authorities’ claims of attacks being behind the blackouts are merely a coverup for the economically-in-crisis country’s failing infrastructure. 

Although Indonesian authorities have not presented any solid evidence for a cyberattack being behind the blackout in Java, security analysts have warned that the country is extremely vulnerable to such attacks

For example, the 2017 Safe Cities Index put together by the Economist Intelligence Unit placed Jakarta fourth from the bottom of their rankings. The capital’s poor safety rating was due in large part to its low marks in the cybersecurity category. 

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