By Freedom Jack | September 7, 2022
Tommy Waller recently wrote an article for the Center for Security Policy reporting on a “60 Minutes” segment warning about the vulnerability of the U.S. electric infrastructure to cyber attack and electromagnetic pulse (EMP) threats. It’s worth reading, and ends by directing readers to two video productions on the topic. See:
Working in ‘heavy industry’ for 40 years, I’m aware that these are known problems. The article only touches the surface – refineries, pipelines (think Colonial), papermaking, all manufacturing is at significant risk.
You can’t make products anymore without the ‘plant floor’ being connected to the internal corporate network and frequently the internet. Any updates to plant floor automation devices are chronically behind (think years), even security updates. Would you believe new manufacturing controllers are being deployed today, running on Windows XP (do you all even remember that OS and how old it is?).
It literally takes millions of dollars to do some of these upgrades. A glass manufacturing blast furnace might run (without downtime) for 20 years.
A few years ago a major oil pipeline was blown up when hackers compromised the pipeline controls, slammed a valve shut, which ruptured the pipe due to the backpressure of suddenly stopping the momentum of millions of gallons of oil, resulting in a major explosion. All from some guy in his pajamas from his mom’s basement (not literally, but you get the idea).
Regarding the power grid, there are essentially only three grids in all of the US – east, west, and Texas. Any event in one grid will quickly cascade to the rest of the connections within that grid, likely taking down all areas within that grid. I found it curious when Texas had the winter storm outage recently how much they were criticized for not joining one of the other grids. Yes, it would have helped them that one time, but puts them at serious risk for far more damaging outages in the future.
While refineries are vulnerable, there is much less risk of cascading failure. They are more ‘stand-alone’. An outage at one refinery doesn’t take down all others in half of the US. Even the Colonial pipeline outage, as significant as it was, only took out gas delivery to ~20% of the country.
So it seems a reasonable question to ask why “they” are pushing so hard to move EVERYTHING to run on electricity (including the recent push from furnaces to heat pumps), knowing the current infrastructure can’t handle it, doesn’t have the capacity, and is essentially a single-point-of-failure that can easily be destroyed by adversaries with minimal skills. And will cost trillions and take decades if we were serious about securing it.
Treasonous behavior? Simple stupidity, or by design? Maybe both.
One thought on “How Vulnerable is the Electric Grid?”
Great essay and great questions at the end. If the energy grid is really as vulnerable as many of us believe it is, why are so few actions taken to protect it? Is it really just an impossible task, so talking about it is just fear-mongering, or diverting attention from bigger problems? I don’t know. This seems to be another reason to keep three or six months of food and water on hand and a solar-powered generator (or two), plus guns and ammo (of course!). How many of us do that?
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