Posted by: doug308 | December 2, 2010

In Defense Of The Grid

A while ago I put a post on this blog about the possibility of power grids being disrupted or put out of business altogether by an EMP (an electro magnetic pulse typically associated with the use of nuclear weapon detonated in the atmosphere). And while there is certainly ample evidence of various rogue states and terrorist groups around the globe giving this action some consideration I think the a greater danger may lie in the plethora of computers controlling power stations and transmission networks.

Whether it is a kid committing what amounts to an act of vandalism or a more sophisticated criminal enterprise using your PC for a more nefarious purpose nearly everyone with a computer can attest to the fact that computer viruses run rampant across the internet. But what if instead of stealing bank passwords and credit card numbers hackers accessed the network controlling a single nuclear power plant or a major T&D sub station? Could the light go out on Broadway? Such attacks are not unprecedented. Thus far we have lucked out in terms of the damage caused, but just a simple Google search on the subject showed articles describing such attacks (some malicious and some by contractors hired to see if they could crack the system) going back ten years. And the truth of the matter is that is may be just as likely that the threat would come from a disgruntled employee downloading something smuggled in on an easily concealable thumb drive as it would be from a government act of espionage. Fortunately federally mandated safeguards have systems in place that should prevent such attacks from triggering a meltdown. But the systems are complex making it hard to plug every hole and shutting down power to all or part of a major city or state would be quite a headline grabber not to mention a pretty huge pain in the neck for several million people.

So where do we stand in this battle? Much of this cat and mouse game take places behind the scenes and many victories in defense of these attacks are often unpublished. Even those instances that make it to the light of day are presented with the slant of the presenter. I would be very interested to hear from those of you on the front lines as to your opinions on this issue. Should we feel secure that the lights will stay on in the face of this threat. Or should I start recruiting more IT people with a QA and security background?

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