Image: Mohammad Mardani

Pakistani authorities investigating if cyberattack caused nationwide blackout

Pakistani authorities are investigating whether a nationwide blackout which left millions of people without power on Monday was caused by a cyberattack.

The country’s energy minister Khurram Dastgir Khan told journalists during a news conference on Tuesday morning that there was a “remote chance” the incident was caused by hackers.

Cyberattacks on energy grids are rare, although several have targeted Ukraine in the context of Russia’s attacks against the country since 2014.

Read more - Life during wartime: Ukraine ‘has to be ready for new more powerful and complex’ cyberattacks

Outages have become a common occurrence in the South Asian country in recent years, where an ongoing economic crisis and last year’s devastating floods have severely impacted the lives of the country’s more than 220 million people.

Dastgir Khan told reporters in Islamabad on Tuesday that power across Pakistan had been “fully restored” within 24 hours. He added that a committee investigating what had caused the outage had been established by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

In a statement on Twitter, Sharif wrote: “On behalf of my government, I would like to express my sincere regrets for the inconvenience our citizens suffered due to power outage yesterday. On my orders an inquiry is underway to determine reasons of the power failure. Responsibility will be fixed.”

The investigatory committee's preliminary findings are expected to be completed within the coming days, the energy minister said, but he warned that "routine power outages" could still emerge as all of the country's nuclear and coal power plants were not yet fully back online.

The technical root of the problem has not yet been explained in detail. Power generation units had been intentionally and temporarily turned off at night — something Pakistan is doing to save expenditure during the winter — but suffered an error when they were turned on again on Monday morning.

“When the systems were turned on at 7:30am one by one, frequency variation was reported in the southern part of the country between Jamshoro and Dadu. There was a fluctuation in voltage and power generating units were shut down one by one due to cascading impact,” Dastgir Khan said, as reported by Al Jazeera.

All of the country’s major cities were impacted by the incident. It follows a similar nationwide loss of power, subsequently attributed to a technical fault rather than a cyberattack, in January 2021.

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Alexander Martin

Alexander Martin

is the UK Editor for Recorded Future News. He was previously a technology reporter for Sky News and is also a fellow at the European Cyber Conflict Research Initiative.