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Honey, Do We Have Any Candles?

Lights out! / Public Domain

Courtesy of the January 10, 2019 Wall Street Journal:

The cyberattack on the 15-person company near Salem, Ore., which works with utilities and government agencies, was an early thrust in the worst known hack by a foreign government into the nation’s electric grid. It set off so many alarms that U.S. officials took the unusual step in early 2018 of publicly blaming the Russian government.

A reconstruction of the hack reveals a glaring vulnerability at the heart of the country’s electric system. Rather than strike the utilities head on, the hackers went after the system’s unprotected underbelly—hundreds of contractors and subcontractors like All-Ways who had no reason to be on high alert against foreign agents. From these tiny footholds, the hackers worked their way up the supply chain. Some experts believe two dozen or more utilities ultimately were breached.

Well, that’s not good. But this excerpt from a report by the President’s National Infrastructure Advisory Council, released in December 2018, may be worse:

After interviews with dozens of senior leaders and experts and an extensive review of studies and statutes, we found that existing national plans, response resources, and coordination strategies would be outmatched by a catastrophic power outage. This profound risk requires a new national focus. Significant public and private action is needed to prepare for and recover from a catastrophic outage that could leave the large parts of the nation without power for weeks or months, and cause service failures in other sectors — including water and wastewater, communications, transportation, healthcare, and financial services—-that are critical to public health and safety and our national and economic security.

We’re going to have to hold on to hear about the outcome of the November 2018 Liberty Eclipse exercise “simulating the painstaking process of reenergizing the power grid while squaring off against a simultaneous cyberattack on electric, oil and natural gas infrastructure.”

While we’re waiting, let’s throw in this excerpt from a 2018 report by the Air Force’s Air University Electromagnetic Defense Task Force:

Most experts agree that if a GMD [natural geomagnetic disturbance] or EMP [man-made electromagnetic pulse] incapacitates an electrical grid, the grid will likely remain in a failed state from weeks to months. In turn, the ability to provide continued electrical cooling for nuclear power plant reactors and spent fuel pools would be at the top of electricity restoration priorities within hours… In a worst-case scenario, all reactors within an affected region could be impacted simultaneously. …

All non-EMP-hardened hardware and equipment have a high probability of disruption or failure when subjected to EMS [electromagnetic spectrum] phenomena at a range of wavelengths and power levels. Such failures may include long-term loss of electrical power (due to loss of emergency generators), sewage, fresh water, banking, landlines, cellular service, vehicles, and so forth.

Hmmm, he thinks as he glances at the pantry. I think I’ll buy more beans.

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