September 10, 2013
Critical Infrastructure Protection: Are we prepared for a massive cyberattack on U.S. systems
In terms of Critical Infrastructure, where does our nation need to place the most focus Some argue it is our financial institutions. What about our transportation services, or food and water What would happen if the oil and gas services went down An attack on any one of these could be disastrous. Taylor Armerding suggests a cyber-attack on the nation??™s power grid is the greatest threat we face, and he is not alone.
According to Joe Weiss, an industrial control systems expert, an attack on the nation??™s power grid would also affect all of the aforementioned services. If there is no power, banks don??™t operate, food goes bad, and transportation systems shut down. A cyber-attack could damage or destroy custom equipment (transformers, boilers, turbines) that has components not easily replaced. The power grid equipment supports nearly all of the critical services; water, oil and gas systems, telecommunications, transportation, and banks. A specific attack could cause outages that last anywhere from 9 to 18 months, or even more. Much of the equipment we utilize is not made in the US, so replacing it takes significant time and money. Economist Scott Borg, who works for the federal government, said that if a third of the country lost power for three months, it would cost the country and our people approximately $700 billion dollars.
One question posed by Armerding is why we haven??™t seen a larger scale cyber-attack already. Russia pre-emptively attacked Georgia??™s infrastructure prior to kinetic operations in 2008. Francis Cianfrocca says, ???A key aspect of that was massive destabilization of Georgia??™s financial structure. It included financial, telecom, and critical infrastructure and was very successful.??? South Korea has recently seen cyber-attacks on some financial institutions, but has recovered without significant loss or damage. However, America has yet to see an attack of any such magnitude.
Experts agree there is definitely room for concern, and we have to continue focusing on prevention, but most believe a cyber-attack is not likely to bring down the whole power grid for months at a time. The threat is still greater than what we are prepared for, but the problems are being identified and people are working hard to build more redundancy into our systems. The question is whether or not we can get ahead of the threat before an attack occurs.