May 31, 2016

THE HILL: Why a power grid attack is a nightmare scenario.

Stores are closed. Cell service is failing. Broadband Internet is gone.

Hospitals are operating on generators, but rapidly running out of fuel.

Garbage is rotting in the streets, and clean water is scarce as people boil water stored in bathtubs to stop the spread of bacteria.

And escape?

There is none, because planes can’t fly, trains can’t run, and gas stations can’t pump fuel.

This is the “nightmare scenario” that lawmakers have been warning you about.

The threat of an attack on the nation’s power grid is all too real for the network security professionals who labor every day to keep the country safe.

“In order to restore civilized society, the power has got to be back on,” said Scott Aaronson, who oversees the Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council (ESCC), an industry-government emergency response program.

While cybersecurity experts and industry executives describe such warnings as alarmist, intelligence officials say people underestimate how destructive a power outage can be.

The most damaging kind of attack, specialists say, would be carefully coordinated to strike multiple power stations.

If hackers were to knock out 100 strategically chosen generators in the Northeast, for example, the damaged power grid would quickly overload, causing a cascade of secondary outages across multiple states. While some areas could recover quickly, others might be without power for weeks.

The scenario isn’t completely hypothetical. Lawmakers and government officials got a preview in 2003, when a blackout spread from the coastal Northeast into the Midwest and Canada.

“If you think of how crippled our region is when we lose power for just a couple of days, the implications of a deliberate widespread attack on the power grid for the East Coast, say, would cause devastation,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Well, if I were mounting a grid attack, I’d also launch cyber-attacks on things, and organizations, needed to recover from it. And perhaps mix it with some physical attacks to create more confusion.

Bill Forstchen, call your office.

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