Threats to the Electric Grid

Cyber Threat to Grid Rising

The FBI reports cyber threats surpassing terrorism where the power grid is concerned.

BY CounterJihad · @CounterjihadUS | April 6, 2016

Writing at The Hill, a counsel to the House Homeland Security Committee points out that threats to the electric grid often come from the very fact that systems are hooked together.  The hacker penetration of Target that seized millions of credit card numbers, he notes, came through their heating and air-conditioning contractor.  Target is not the only such case:

The recent U.S. Office of Personnel Management data breach that compromised the data of millions of federal employees provides another example of how storing data on a third-party server can have catastrophic consequences.

Electric utility organizations are well aware of cyberattacks targeting their own third-party supply chain partners.

The FBI reports that “cyberthreats are eclipsing terrorism” as a primary method by which America’s enemies attempt harm to the country.  The linked article vastly understates the danger by looking to localized examples such as Hurricane Sandy.  A blue-ribbon commission investigating the danger of wide-scale losses of power estimated that 90% of Americans could die in the event of a major such loss.  This kind of loss could be caused even by a natural sunstorm, or by an enemy who gained access to any kind of nuclear weapon.

The Secure the Grid Coalition has specific recommendations on cyber security for the grid.  Of special importance is the concept of “resiliency,” by which they mean ” the ability to withstand and recover promptly from an accident, attack, or disaster, and the elimination of single points of failure.”  One such problem is that the grid is wired together in such a way that large areas are vulnerable to disruptions affecting small areas.  Just one such area, called the East Interconnection, spans eastern North America from Canada to Texas and covers almost all of the eastern United States.  A disruption that took down a large part of this grid could cause power failures across it.  Resilience technologies aim at localizing disruptions so that the damage can be localized, making it easier to handle.

The full list of their recommendations includes ensuring regulatory authority.  These concerns are important enough that best-practices need to be followed by the whole industry.  In a way, that’s tying things together.  Ironically, it may be the only way to make sure that the grid is kept from being too interconnected.  When your HVAC contractor can take you down, you’ve tied things together too much.  When an outage in New York can cause power to fail in Texas, a little more smart separation may be what we need.  If we can’t stop damage everywhere, we can at least contain it and make it easier to fix.


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