In previous posts we’ve talked about how critical electricity is to our way of life and the stability of our society. In fact, it is probably the number one thing that holds our country together and without it we could have complete anarchy.
We’ve talked about the threat posed by Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP), which not only shuts down power but actually destroys most of the devices that run on electricity making it that much harder to have a return to normalcy even if we could get the power plants running again. While EMP is a danger to our society it still requires a nuclear weapon to create one and even well funded terrorist organizations will have a hard time pulling off this type of attack. A nation state would have the capability but surely our response (likely from nuclear submarines that remain unaffected) would be swift and severe. So, I think this is actually a less likely scenario.
Not too long ago Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons production plant was devastated by a very sophisticated computer virus called “Stuxnet“. More recently banks in Lebanon have been attacked with a similar virus which digs through the accounts of certain clients, returning the information to the virus’s creators. These viruses are so complex and clearly took so many man-hours to create that experts agree that it’s clear they were developed by one or more nation states. Most likely the U.S. and Israel working together.
When I first heard of this I was absolutely fascinated and spent quite a bit of time talking with Thoreau who really dug into the topic online. The more I followed the story and the more I researched this type of cyber-warfare the more worried I became. It now appears that the proverbial genie is out of the very real bottle! So many copies of the Stuxnet virus are out there and in the hands of some very bad people that the threat of the virus being reverse engineered and turned back against the U.S. has become a very real threat. Take a look at this article from Venturebeat which gives a fairly quick rundown of the situation.
And these attacks are so effective, anonymous, and potentially devastating that they are becoming ever more popular. In 2009 there were only nine cyberattacks against US infrastructure. Last year there were 160!
So, while an attack like this on our power grid or individual power plants would not be as devastating as an all out EMP attack, it is far more likely. In my estimation the power could be down for a month or more after a bad cyberattack whereas an EMP pulse could literally take years to recover from. Still, imagine your city or town without power for a month. Things would not be pretty…
The more I hear about this type of threat the more I lean towards solar solutions that would allow me to operate off-grid. Generators are a good option for a few days of lost power, such as what you might experience after a bad storm. A longer power outage is a much bigger problem and one we all need to think quite a bit about.