Nightmare on Your Street: Could You Survive the Loss of the Power Grid?

Power Grid Down Source

Power Grid Down

The Power Grid Has Gone Down and Will Not Come Back Up: What Do You Do?

Stores are closed. Cell service is failing. Broadband Internet is gone.

Hospitals are operating on generators, but rapidly running out of fuel.

Garbage is rotting in the streets, and clean water is scarce as people boil water stored in bathtubs to stop the spread of bacteria.

And escape?

There is none, because planes can’t fly, trains can’t run, and gas stations can’t pump fuel.

__ Cybersecurity: The Hill

Parts of Ukraine experienced a dress rehearsal for such an attack not long ago. How it happened:

In December 2015 a presumed Russian cyber-attacker successfully seized control of the Prykarpattyaoblenergo Control Center (PCC) in the Ivano-Frankivsk region of Western Ukraine, leaving 230,000 without power for up to 6 hours. This marked the first time that a cyber weapon was successfully used against a nation’s power grid. The attackers were skilled strategists who carefully planned their assault over many months, first doing reconnaissance to study the networks and siphon operator credentials, then launching a synchronized assault in a well-choreographed dance. The control systems in Ukraine were surprisingly more secure than some in the U.S., since they were well-segmented from the control center business networks with robust firewalls, emphasizing just how vulnerable power systems are globally.

… The attackers overwrote firmware on critical devices at 16 substations, leaving them unresponsive to any remote commands from operators , effectively leaving plant operators blind. ___ HP

More details about the attack — and ways to prevent an even worse destructive outage — can be found in the article below:

… the adversary launched the highly coordinated attack on December 23rd. First, they took control of grid operator workstations and opened circuit breakers at approximately 30 substations, taking them all offline and causing the power outage. Next, to hinder the recovery effort by the utilities, the actor disabled the uninterruptible power supplies (battery backups) for two control centers and disabled remote control of many of the substations to prevent grid operators from sending remote commands to re-close the circuit breakers and restore power. They also ran a customized version of the KillDisk malware to erase and corrupt various systems at the utilities. To further complicate recovery efforts (and frustrate customers), the actor also launched a telephone denial-of-service attack against customer call centers to prevent customers from reporting the outages or from gaining clarity on when their power would be restored.

__ Learning Lessons from Ukraine’s Power Grid Cyber Attack

Obviously, just a dress rehearsal. But entire divisions of China’s PLA and Russia’s FSB are devoted to creating this type of mayhem, and worse. The safe bet would be to assume that larger scale attacks on power grids are on the way.

In 2014, it was reported that the US energy grid was attacked 79 times, and the modus operandi for the majority of them was similar to the Ukraine attack – the virus or malware was released through infected email. While the Department of Homeland Security has said such a thing is a “rare occurrence and unlikely to cause widespread damage,” hackers have still been able to infiltrate the US energy grid. __

Power grids support all critical infrastructure in modern nations. They are a matter of life or death for the majority of communities and regions, which typically do not have backup power supplies or the means to operate a “micro-grid” separate from the internet and the main power grid.

“Smart grids” are vulnerable grids — potential deathtraps waiting to be sprung by cyberwarriors and other mischief makers.

A prolonged outage across 15 states and Washington, D.C., according to the University of Cambridge and insurer Lloyd’s of London, would leave 93 million people in darkness, cost the economy hundreds of millions of dollars and cause a surge in fatalities at hospitals.

The geopolitical fallout could be even worse.

“If [a major cyberattack] happens, that’s a major act of war, bombs are starting to fall,” said Cris Thomas, a well-known hacker who is now a strategist at security firm Tenable. __

The insurance industry did not become so wealthy and powerful by ignoring potentially devastating risks to lives and valuable infrastructure.

It is “increasingly clear that the risks of cyber terrorism are very large,” with extremely large potential losses, said Ben Beeson, cyber risk practice leader at Lockton Cos. L.L.C. in Washington. He said the insurance market does not have much capacity to address the risk.

… “The losses could run into the billions,” Mr. Beeson said. “It does warrant support from the government.”

The insurance industry has never seen a risk so interconnected, and a single event could do great damage to the insurance industry, he said. __

Mr. Beeson is understating the problem. Losses would easily run into the $trillions in an wide-scale power outage of extended duration. This is one situation where insurance companies would be wise to take a proactive and interventionist approach — even at significant monetary cost to themselves.

Government Officials Unwilling to Tell the Truth Publicly About the Threat

At the beginning of 2016, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a report downplaying future cyber-attacks against the U.S. power grid, but, demonstrating the urgency of the problem, by the beginning of April, it joined forces with the FBI to commence a program warning utilities around the U.S. of the dangers of future cyber-attacks. A U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing also recently discussed cyber-security of the power sector and identified the most pressing concern as the need to create post-attack plans to assist the affected populations. Governments around the world have plans in place to deal with the consequences of natural disasters, yet none have disaster relief plans for a downed power grid. Clearly, this must change. Local and state governments must work together with their national counterparts to produce and quickly implement plans to address future attacks. They are coming. __ HP

Cyber Attack vs. EMP

As devastating as a coordinated, wide-scale cyber attack would be on the grid, a high altitude EMP attack (or attacks) would permanently destroy even more critical infrastructure — and it would take longer to restore the power grid backbone structure after an EMP attack, up to 6 months or longer. Over that period of time it is expected that over 50% of populations would die from lack of normal infrastructure, and from violent disorders occurring as a result of loss of infrastructure.

Even an EMP attack from a single 10-kiloton nuclear weapon — of the type now in North Korea’s arsenal — could cause cascading failures which could black out the U.S. Eastern Grid for months or years, and devastate the civilian economy. An EMP, detonated at an altitude above 30-70 kilometers, could be delivered by a short-range missile fired off a freighter, hundreds of kilometers off U.S. shores.

The result would be no communications, no transportation, no fuel, no food, and no water for a decade or more. That would be true for at least the entire eastern half of the United States, where most of the population lives. National Geographic has described it as an “Electronic Armageddon.”

… A Super-EMP weapon, however, detonated 300 kilometers above the center of the U.S., could destroy the entire nation’s industrial and military capacity, and kill a large percentage of the American people, by taking down the U.S. electrical grid. Once destroyed, the grid’s elements would take decades to rebuild.[3]


A quick reading of William Fortschen’s well researched novel, “One Second After,” is an education in EMP aftermath in itself.

More on EMP and the post-grid future

The threat to the US and North America from EMP was raised by a number of influential people in the US government in 2004 and 2008, but since 2009 the US government seems to have gone to sleep on this isssue — as on so many issues of genuine national and regional security.

Worse, most people are ignoring the likelihood that both large-scale cyber attacks on power grids and EMP attacks, are most likely to take place as part of a coordinated military takeover by particular nations going through stages of radical expansion of territory and influence. Compared to the nuclear exchanges that could easily occur after large-scale power grid attacks, the extended loss of electricity (and over 50% fatality rates) might be the least of modern civilisation’s problems.

Parallel Infrastructure Grows More Important Each Year that Passes

Probing the power grid for digital vulnerabilities — which China, Russia and Iran do routinely — is now considered a standard part of intelligence gathering. __ Life or Death Vulnerability to Cyberattack

Recent nuclear sabre-rattling by Russia, China, North Korea, and other rogue nations — combined with their large scale commitments to cyber-war, cyber-espionage, deadly bullying, and territorial expansion — merely underlines the need for groups of intelligent persons to devote time and resources to building parallel infrastructures capable of replacing mainstream power grids and other critical infrastrucutre, in a crisis.

Self-powered microgrids on different scales — isolated from the internet and the main grid — could support prepared communities for crises of variable lengths — if prepared in advance. But these will not be your grandfather’s “renewable” microgrid. Unreliable, intermittent sources of energy (wind, solar) should be the last resort, when all reliable options (and almost all competence) have been lost.

Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst. It is never too late to have a Dangerous Childhood.

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1 Response to Nightmare on Your Street: Could You Survive the Loss of the Power Grid?

  1. Matt Musson says:

    When the atm’s quit working and the gps goes out you will know the war has started and the s has htf.

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