Anonymous, the loosely affiliated group of "hacktivists," have had a wide array of targets: The Boston and Oakland Police Departments, the FBI, Scotland Yard and the Greek government, just to name a few. Targets are selected because of a perceived injustice: police brutality, Internet censorship or the rich oppressing the poor.
Once perceived as a minor nuisance, Anonymous is getting some serious attention: According to the Wall Street Journal, the Director of the National Security Agency, or NSA, has cautioned that Anonymous could have the capability to knock out power in the U.S. through cyberattacks within the next one to two years.
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NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander issued his warning in private government meetings, and Anonymous hasn't yet been added to any public "threat list." However Alexander, and other government officials, have expressed growing concern about America's vulnerability to cyberattack. President Obama's proposed 2013 budget, for example, considers cyberattacks to be among the “emerging threats for which the United States must be prepared," alongside nuclear war and terrorism.
[More from Mashable: Anonymous Takes Revenge on Oakland Officials, Posts Private Data]
Anonymous' attacks have typically come in the form of a "Distributed Denial of Service," or DDoS, where a target website's server is overloaded with fake traffic and rendered useless, but a power grid knockout is a much more complex operation. There is some doubt over whether or not Anonymous could (or would) pull off such an attack. However, Internet security experts acknowledge that cyberwarfare is a growing problem and are ramping up defenses to prevent digital catastrophe.
"The industry is engaged and stepping up widely to respond to emerging cyber threats," an electric-industry official told The Wall Street Journal. "There is a recognition that there are groups out there like Anonymous, and we are concerned, as are other sectors."
Other countries, such as China and Russia, are believed by some to be developing cyberwarfare plans against the U.S. alongside regular warfare if conflict ever breaks out. Plus, America's current enemies could be interested in attacking the digital infrastructure of the U.S. as well. If Anonymous or other similar groups were "hired" by these countries or organizations, the hackers could more quickly become a threat to the U.S.
An Anonymous-affiliated blog called the NSA director's concerns "ridiculous."
"Why should Anonymous shut off power grid?," said the post. "Makes no sense! They just want you to feel afraid."
Do you think Anonymous could or would attack U.S. power grids? Let us know in the comments below.
This story originally published on Mashable here.