Mumbai power outage: ‘Probe indicated Oct 12 blackout may be due to bid by foreign agencies to hack infrastructure’

State Home Minister Anil Deshmukh on Monday said that preliminary findings of an investigation by the Maharashtra Cyber Police into last year’s massive power outage in Mumbai on October 12 indicated that “blackout of October 12 could probably have occured” due to “attempts” by unidentified foreign agencies to hack the city’s electrical infrastructure.

An initial assessment of the power outage made by the Energy Department was that the grid failure on the morning of October 12 started due to tripping of the 400 KV Padgha-Kalwa transmission line that delivers power to Mumbai.

Deshmukh did not give details of when the hacking attempts took place.

The Mumbai power shutdown had brought the city to a grinding halt for a few hours, with some parts going without electricity for nearly 24 hours.

“After the October 12 outage, Energy Minister Nitin Raut had hinted at sabotage and requested an investigation. We subsequently asked the Maharashtra Cyber Police to investigate the matter. A preliminary report submitted by them which analysed the Maharashtra State Electricity Boards Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system states that there is some evidence to point at cyber sabotage on MSEB servers,” Deshmukh said.

He said there were three main findings of the cyber police. The first was that 14 Trojan Horses were used to insert malware into the MSEB server. A Trojan Horse is a type of code that can take control of a network and is designed to damage, disrupt, steal, or in general inflict some other harmful action on a network.

The second finding was that 8 GB data from foreign servers had been transferred to the MSEB server. He also said that the report had found evidence of several attempts being made by blacklisted Internet Protocol addresses to log into MSEB servers.

“As per the the report the blackout of October 12 could have been because of these reasons,” Deshmukh said.

Deshmukh, who handed over the report to Energy Minister Nitin Raut at the press conference, said “there were chances of some foreign attempts” but it was not possible to hold any country responsible at this point of time.

“The inquiry report has given an indication that a malware was infected into the MSEB servers. However, we can’t say which county is behind this at this point of time,” Deshmukh said. He added that the inquiry would continue and the present findings were preliminary.

He referred to reports in international media which stated that a Chinese government-linked group of hackers targeted India’s critical power grid system through malware. “A US Recorded Future has come out with a report which states that China may have inserted a malware in Mumbai’s electrical infrastructure. I am only giving references of news reports that have come out in the international media where they have pointed a finger at China,” Deshmukh said.
“I will read and analyse the report before commenting on its findings. The Maharashtra Assembly session is on and I will make a comment on this issue on the floor of the House,” Energy Minister Raut said.

Mumbai gets power from three distributors — Tata Power, Adani Electricity and Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) — while state-owned Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Co. Ltd (MSEDCL) supplies to only a few pockets in Mumbai.
According to the Energy Department’s report, of the two transmission lines in the Padgha-Kalwa belt, one had tripped early morning before the outage and officials were working to revive the line by 9.30 am but missed the deadline. The entire load was then carried by the second transmission line on the belt which also tripped because of a conductor snapping at 9.58 am.

This led to a cascading effect tripping the line interconnecting Kalwa to Kharghar substation at 10 am. The Pune-Kharghar 400kV line, another major line, also tripped due to overloading, resulting in a severe load drop in the Mumbai system. The Generation Capacity was a mere 1349 MW while demand had touched 2839 MW that collapsed the system. By 10.05 am, major parts of Mumbai and Thane had suffered one of the worst outages in decades.

Subsequently, the State Energy Department as well as Central Electricity Regulatory Authority set up investigation committees, whose reports are to be submitted.