Cyber hacking could prove just as detrimental to the power grid as weather emergencies, an EMP attack by a rogue nation, or solar flares. On February 11, 2014, cyber hackers exploited the weaknesses of the Network Time Protocol system crafted to sync computer and laptops clocks. The cyber terrorists were able to send a “massive amount of data” to servers which could introduce “malicious attack” on online networks. Cloudfare CEO Matthew Prince said on Twitter, “Someone’s got a big, new cannon and the attack is the start of ugly things to come.”
During a recent joint press conference between British Prime Minister David Cameron and President Obama, the leaders discussed the dire impact of cyber attacks and counter-terrorism issues during the press conference. Cameron had also previously said that there should be “no means of communication” which “we cannot read” when discussing cyber attack thwarting efforts. He was expected to discuss “getting” companies such as Facebook and Google to permit the government to view encrypted messages by users.
Cyber attack war games are being planned by the United States and the United Kingdom. The first of the exercised will involve a staged cyber hacking of the financial sector and will be conducted later this year. The “unprecedented” cyber attack war games plan was announced by Prime Minister David Cameron before he held a joint press conference with President Barack Obama on Friday afternoon.
The power grid is our most antiquated and vulnerable piece of infrastructure. The entire system is teetering on the brink of failure. The grid is often called America’s glass jaw because of the nation’s reliability on it and also due to its many weaknesses, such as its vulnerability to a domino effect because it is interconnected. There are about 5,800 power plants and 450,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines in the US, many of them decades old and a large portion of them connected to one another.
If the power grid failed due to a cyber attack, even if only for a single week, the food supply would be diminished significantly and the death toll due to a lack of medical care, would be devastating.
Former Department of Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano stated during a press club conference that a cyber attack on the grid system was a matter of “when” not “if.” A cyber-attack is not the only threat facing the nation’s electrical grid. Napolitano spoke at length about the need to prepare for a downed power grid caused by cyber hackers.
The outgoing DHS secretary uttered this warning when speaking in front of the National Press Club:
“Our country will, at some point, face a major cyber event that will have a serious effect on our lives, our economy and the everyday functioning of our society. While we have built systems, protections and a framework to identify attacks and intrusions, share information with the private sector and across government, and develop plans and capabilities to mitigate the damage, more must be done, and quickly. After the storm passed [Hurricane Sandy] FEMA sent teams into impacted areas to set up Disaster Registration Centers and conduct damage assessments. For the first time, we activated the DHS Surge Capacity Force, an all-volunteer corps that we created in 2011 to leverage the shared talents and experience and capabilities of employees from across the department.”
Napolitano acknowledged that terrorist threats against the United States have not subsided, but claimed the federal government and intelligence agencies have become more “flexible” and “nimble” at dealing with such dangers. Despite concerns about cyber attacks causing an economic collapse or the taking down the power grid, many Americans remain concerned about an invasion of privacy which could be caused if websites begin allowing the government to snoop around online activity.
China, the nation which virtually owns the United States at this point, may be waging an invisible war on the power grid. A grid related news report which garnered extremely little coverage by the mainstream media in the spring of 2013, detailed an order for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to prepare for war. Chinese president Xi Jinping spewed 7,500-plus words of “militaristic rhetoric” to state media pertaining to preparedness efforts by the largest army in the world.
The U.S. power grid has reportedly been under a constant state of attack by English-speaking Chinese computer experts nestled in a rather unimposing building in Shanghai. The alleged cyber attacks by the computer hackers pose as significant a threat to America as the two million soldiers in the Chinese army ever could, if the cyber warfare studies by the Mandiant security firm are accurate.
One of the top targets of the People’s Liberation Army is allegedly Lockheed Martin, the largest defense contractor in the United States. Government officials have acknowledged the distinct similarities between the F-35 fighter jet and a version of the plane manufactured in China. Crippling the power grid would be perhaps the quickest way to destroy the American economy and decrease the effectiveness of our military at the same time. The People’s Liberation Army would not have to step foot on American soil or fire a single shot, in order to win a virtual and silent war against the United States.
Commerce would come to a screeching halt if the power grid collapsed. Civil unrest would likely occur in as little as three days in major metropolitan areas. Tractor-trailers would not be able to deliver food to grocery stores if gas station pumps no longer worked. The American military, the largest and most well-trained fighting force in the world, would also be hampered drastically by a downed power grid. Operating radars, reviewing satellite feeds, and the ability to launch rockets would no longer be possible if cyber hackers took down the power grid.