A hacker wearing a fake beard and dark sunglasses took the stage at a computer security conference in Miami on Thursday and showed a group of about 60 security researchers how to intercept the radio communications between Silver Spring Networks, a maker of smart grid technology, and its clients, which include major utilities like Pacific Gas and Electric and Pepco Holdings.
The hacker, who goes by the moniker Atlas, stopped short of showing how to inflict damage to these systems, but the implication of his presentation was clear: If you can understand the way these systems speak to one another, the potential to hack them is very real. And, the logic continues, if you can hack these systems, then you could tinker with an oil or gas pipeline, or cause a power failure.
Perhaps the reason he “stopped short of showing how to inflict damage to these systems” is because he can’t. As far as I can tell from this article, he’s intercepting encrypted communications, and if he can’t decrypt them, then the system is working as designed. But it would be too much to ask the NYT to think critically about the dots a guy in a disguise is connecting.