Four types of threats have the potential to take down the electric grid: electromagnetic pulse (EMP), solar storms, physical attack and cyber attack. Several actors can carry out such attacks, including nation-state hackers, cybercriminals, cyber terrorists and hacktivists.
The electric grid, often described as the “system of systems,” supplies power to critical infrastructure sectors that are crucial to the functioning of American society. This includes telecommunications, water and sewer systems, hospitals, food, natural gas pipelines and petroleum distribution.
Although a long-term loss of the power seems like the stuff of science fiction, the threat could not be more real. If the US power grid goes down and stays down for a year, as many as nine out of 10 Americans could be dead within a year, according to former chairman of the Congressional EMP Threat Commission William Graham. Because most of the military relies on the civilian grid, the nation’s military bases could also go down.
Without a secure and defendable electric grid, the United States could plunge into a new “dark age” due to a suddenly scarce food supply, loss of telecommunications and an inability to access potable water, medicine, bank accounts and transportation, among other things.
“The United States has not yet experienced a wide-area and long-term outage, where fuel supplies for backup generators run out and significant outside assistance is not available,” Thomas Popik, president of the Foundation for Resilient Societies, told Homeland Security Today. “For modern societies wholly dependent on electric power, this is uncharted territory.”
A devastating cyber attack on US critical infrastructure resulting in a long-duration blackout is not just a hypothetical doomsday scenario. It is a clear and present danger.
To read the complete report, see the November Homeland Security Today here. also read the report, EXCLUSIVE: Paranoid, or Cautious? 2017 Predictions for Grid Security.