It's the most fragile part of our infrastructure. The power grid. Could the nation's power grid withstand physical and cyber attacks?
A report published on the technology website Ars Technica says that one power company received an incredible 10,000 attempted cyber attacks per month.
U.S. Reps. Edward Markey (D-MA) and Henry Waxman (D-CA) sent 15 questions to more than 150 utilities and received replies from 112 of them. Only 53 utilities responded to all of the questions, and their answers will shock you.
More than a dozen utilities reported "daily," "constant," or "frequent" attempted cyber attacks ranging from phishing to malware infection to unfriendly probes. A Midwestern power provider said that it was "subject to ongoing malicious cyber and physical activity. For example, we see probes on our network to look for vulnerabilities in our systems and applications on a daily basis. Much of this activity is automated and dynamic in nature—able to adapt to what is discovered during its probing process."
How can we make sure those attempts aren't successful?
According to the New York Times, that hair-raising, nerve-wracking question will be put to the test in November when a full-scale drill takes place, testing our preparedness.
Thousands of utility workers, business executives, National Guard officers, FBI anti-terrorism experts and other government officials here and in Canada and Mexico will participate in the drill that will simulate both physical and cyber attacks that could potentially cripple large sections of the power grid.
This is what our inside source was told when he asked a compliance officer at a large power company about this drill in November.
"It's a simulation, sort of. The program administrator will inject these simulations and test their response team to see what the reaction is and how fast you can get your grip back up."
Our source said, "SCADA systems are the ones that control all the power plant systems. It stands for "Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition." SCADA systems vary from product to product and company to company. A virus could potentially be made to gain control of that system. These can be, and are remotely controlled via the web in many cases. For instance, I can log in and control a wind turbine across the country with my laptop."
He wonders what the compliance officer meant by the drill being sort of a simulation and took the officer's response as it may be a hybrid simulation that is actually tied to utility company's hardware or assets.
One goal of the drill, called GridEx II, is to explore how governments would react as the loss of the grid crippled the supply chain for everyday necessities.
Government agencies have participated in drills before, but never practiced what would happen if the power grid when down and didn't come back in a timely fashion.
The drill is part of a give-and-take in the past few years between the government and utilities that has exposed the difficulties of securing the electric system.
The grid is essential for almost everything, but it is mostly controlled by investor-owned companies or municipal or regional agencies. According to the White House, 99 percent of military facilities rely on commercial power.
According to The Guardian, an attack affecting things like the power grid isn't just reserved for big Hollywood action movies. The Guardian reported that in 1961, the U.S. Air Force came dramatically close to almost detonating an atom bomb in Goldsboro, North Carolina that would have been 260 times more powerful than what the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima during World War II.
The Guardian reports that the document obtained by the investigative journalist Eric Schlosser under the Freedom of Information Act, gives the first conclusive evidence that the U.S. was narrowly spared a disaster of monumental proportions when two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs were accidentally dropped over Goldsboro, North Carolina on January 23, 1961. The bombs fell to earth after a B-52 bomber broke up in mid-air, and one of the devices behaved precisely as a nuclear weapon was designed to behave in warfare: its parachute opened, its trigger mechanisms engaged, and only one low-voltage switch prevented untold carnage.
In addition to accidents and weather-related disasters like Hurricane Sandy, the U.S. has to be prepared for the likelihood of foreign attack using atomic weapons.
Recently South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham warned the U.S. of a potential nuclear attack in Charleston Harbor if the US doesn't respond effectively and swiftly to Syria, Iran who, according to Graham will likely continue to develop nuclear weapons.
According to a report published on the website of the CBS affiliate in Charlotte: He says if there is no U.S. response, Iran will not believe America's resolve to block Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Graham also says those nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists could result in a bomb coming to Charleston Harbor."
The threat to America's power grid is real whether from a cyber attack, a nuclear strike or pulse bomb. Industry experts describe our grid system as our 'Glass Jaw' and expect that a major attack on the grid system is inevitable.