In 2011 the US government and the electric utility industry held its first national emergency exercise – it drew 75 participating agencies and utilities. Today (November 13, 2013) the number is expected to exceed 200. The scenario? A cyberattack on the nation’s power grid…think of it as the “disaster du jour.”
Power outages are on many people’s minds. Following Hurricane Sandy, many residents of the east coast are still mindful of the experience…it is something you don’t forget easily. Everything…seemingly everything requires power.
It seems to be the talk of the nation on the web, radio talk shows and in popular media. National Geographic is even into it with their made-for-TV movie, American Blackout which showed a few weeks ago. In this film, hackers bring down the power grid for 10 days and the country descends into “Lord of the Flies” savagery.
A couple of broader forces may be helping to stoke the growing awareness of grid vulnerability. For one thing, the 2009 stimulus package pumped billions of dollars into “smart meters,” so many Americans now realize that their electric meters, formerly boring gray metal boxes clamped to the side of the house, are essentially computers that can backfire on them if hacked. And as more and more people see their email accounts, credit cards and even their identities hijacked, they can imagine what else hackers are capable of doing.
GridEx II may be simulations of “denial of service attacks,” in which hackers flood a computer with messages and overwhelm it, as well as “some coordinated physical attacks against key transmission substations and generating facilities,” including bombings and “an active shooter scenario.” Sounds like fun!
Why is this really a concern? The nation’s grid has about 600 separate owners, and their computers are heavily interconnected with links that can carry both good data and malicious code, 100 percent protection against cyberattack is unlikely.
Something to think about next time your lights flicker.