Five Reasons The U.S. Power Grid Is Overdue For A Cyber Catastrophe

Monday, August 24, 2015
By Paul Martin

Loren Thompson
AUG 19, 2015

As other major industries one by one fall victim to hackers, the U.S. electrical-power generation and distribution system seems remarkably insulated from cyber threats. A March 24 story in USA Today reported that out of 362 attacks on the power grid over the last four years, only 14 were cyberattacks and “there has never been a successful attempt to cause a power outage through a cyberattack in the United States.”

However, a big attack is coming. The intelligence community has noted a rising incidence of assaults on the industrial control mechanisms used to operate the grid, more and more of which are linked in some fashion to the internet. Industry officials admit that data bases recording the frequency of attacks are unreliable because there is no standard definition of what constitutes a cyberattack and utilities are reluctant to report vulnerabilities. Chances are, the networks supporting grid operations are probed every day by outsiders, often with nefarious intent.

The balkanized architecture of the current grid — there are actually three grids fed by 7,000 generating plants and 2,000 distribution utilities — provides some protection against widespread outages. Unfortunately, efforts to protect the system are similarly fragmented. So it is just a matter of time before the finger-pointing starts in the aftermath of a cyber-induced blackout. Here are the top five reasons why “the big one” is coming.

1. Nothing works without the power grid

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