U.S. electric grid vulnerable to internet attacks

Monday - 7/23/2012, 9:30am EDT

An out-dated power grid is vulnerable to hackers and extortion threats, according to a new report issued by the security technology company McAfee.

Much of today's electric grid is controlled through the internet but utility companies lack the encryption needed to protect the aging infrastructure from cyber attacks.

And off-the-shelf applications used to direct the flow of energy are more generic than proprietary systems, making it easier for hackers to gain control of a system, the report said.

By hacking into a power company's system, attackers demonstrate they can cause serious damage and often they demand a ransom from the power company to avoid the attack, the report said.

Worldwide, one in four power companies report they have been the victim of extortion, making it the most common threat to the grid, according to the report.

The report found that security is generally an afterthought even though a targeted cyber attack could cripple a major city.

This story is part of Federal News Radio's daily Cybersecurity Update. For more cybersecurity news, click here.