After conducting over 120 interviews and examining "dozens of sets of data, government reports and private analyses," the Associated Press has published the results of a yearlong examination of the state of America's infrastructure, specifically the U.S. power grid, the vulnerability to cyberhackers and the information already in the hands of the enemy.
While the information already stolen could knock out the electricity to homes from New York to California, some of the most disturbing information detailed in the AP report shows that; Cyberattackers have already opened a pathway into the networks running the United States power grid; sophisticated foreign hackers have gained enough remote access to control the operations networks that keep the lights on about a dozen times already over the last decade; because much of the infrastructure and grid is privately owned "many are never even reported to the government"; cyberhackers have already taken passwords, as well as engineering drawings of dozens of power plants, at least one with the title "Mission Critical"; and experts have concluded attackers "likely have the capability to strike at will."
In describing the data cyberhackers obtained from just one breach, referred to as "The Calpine Breach," we see the following critical information was already compromised and is now in the hands of foreign government hackers:
—User names and passwords that could be used to connect remotely to Calpine's networks, which were being maintained by a data security company. Even if some of the information was outdated, experts say skilled hackers could have found a way to update the passwords and slip past firewalls to get into the operations network. Eventually, they say, the intruders could shut down generating stations, foul communications networks and possibly cause a blackout near the plants.
—Detailed engineering drawings of networks and power stations from New York to California — 71 in all — showing the precise location of devices that communicate with gas turbines, boilers and other crucial equipment attackers would need to hack specific plants.
—Additional diagrams showing how those local plants transmit information back to the company's virtual cloud, knowledge attackers could use to mask their activity. For example, one map shows how information flows from the Agnews power plant in San Jose, California, near the San Francisco 49ers football stadium, to the company headquarters in Houston.
Some other key quotes:
Last year, Homeland Security released several maps that showed a virtual hit list of critical infrastructure, including two substations in the San Francisco Bay area, water and gas pipelines and a refinery. And according to a previously reported study by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a coordinated attack on just nine critical power stations could cause a coast-to-coast blackout that could last months, far longer than the one that plunged the Northeast into darkness in 2003.
Trained, well-funded adversaries can gain control of physical assets — power plants, substations and transmission equipment. With extensive control, they could knock out the electricity vital to daily life and the economy, and endanger the flow of power to mass transportation, military installations and home refrigerators.
The whole report is well worth the read as the very real vulnerabilities are discussed, such as equipment used that date back to the 1950's, passwords for "key operating systems" written down on sticky notes, at the Tennessee Valley Authority, a corporation "owned by the federal government that powers 9 million households in the southeastern U.S."
It is not a matter of "if" America will suffer a total lights out scenario, but of "when."
While the original AP article offers a plethora of information it leaves many questions, but one significant question I would like to highlight.... If foreign governments, such as Iran, already hostile to the U.S. already have enough data to be able to "strike at will," - What are they waiting for? Why haven't they?
With tensions rising between the U.S. and Russia, along with China, and Russia being an ally of Iran who just happens to have enough information to "strike at will," a scenario of knocking the U.S. power grid out, in conjunction with a military strike or invasion, is well within the realm of possibility, some would even say it is a probability.
Foreign countries aren't the only concern though.....
In October 2015 it was reported that the brutal terror group ISIS has also been targeting the U.S. power grid, which to date, they have failed to do any damage, with John Riggi, a section chief in the FBI's cyber division describing the attempts as "Strong intent. Thankfully, low capability," before asserting "the concern is that they'll buy that capability."
The fact is the U.S. power grid remains a prime target from countries with the capability to cause a total lights out scenario and by terror groups that do not have the capability but have strong intent and the funds available to buy the capability, which makes it critically important that people prepare for the worst and hope for the best.