America’s power grid under cyber attack


The US grid system is built for efficiency, not resilience. So, in the face of earthquakes, solar storms, hurricanes and cyber criminals looking to hack the grid, it’s no wonder that this critical piece of infrastructure is incredibly fragile.

Earlier this year in March, the FBI released a report stating that the American electrical grid was under continuous cyber attack from Russia, with online criminals attempting to hack processing plants, air traffic control units, electricity generators and so forth in order to cripple basic services that the country relied on.

And the country is not sufficiently equipped to handle the magnitude of the resulting damage.

The country has bore witness to the consequence of disruptions to its power systems; most recently, the effect of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico in September 2017 saw the island completely shut down. It was estimated that 64 people died during the hurricane itself, but 2,975 deaths in the following months were accredited to conditions caused by the impact of the storm. From disappearance of food supplies to lack of electricity for power refrigeration; it is clear that the damage that ensued from the disordered power systems was just short of absolute chaos. Not only were lives lost, but it cost the country trillions of dollars from an economic standpoint.

However, whilst natural disasters cannot be avoided, a digital catastrophe can be prevented. The US Government has the financial means to defend its electrical infrastructure from foreign hackers by increasing and maintaining the standards of its cyber intelligence protocols. Furthermore, establishing a greater network of micro-grids and ensuring that each state has its own set of actions to combat an attack and improve resilience will ensure that the country is sufficiently protected from catastrophes.

America must remain at the forefront of understanding the potential of such damage, and the risks involved should a cyber attack on the grid occur.

Former CIA director and member of the non-governmental think-tank Helena Group, James Woolsey, commented: “In a sweeping blackout, the difference between 30 per cent electrical coverage and zero per cent could prove the difference between an enduring civilisation and none.”

While it often takes a disaster to push through with change, Woolsey is clear that America has sat on the knowledge and awareness of cyber attack risks for far too long, and it is time the country took steps to resolve and save the country from nationwide collapse.

“If we wait until after a cyber-attack [to plunge] part of the US into chaos, it will be too late to act,” he concluded.

About Lee Hazell

Lee Hazell is a cyber security consultant with a keen interest in anything tech or security related. Follow Lee on .

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