The largest physical and digital system connections are found in the electricity grid of the United States of America, which is extremely important to both the daily lives of Americans and the nation’s economy. There are currently over 7000 power plants in various States, over 55,000 power substations, about 160,000 miles of high-voltage power transmission lines, and millions of low-voltage power transmission lines that make up the American power grid (Center for Preventive Action, 2017). The three main linkages that make up the power grid’s network of links are highly organized and are principally managed by 3,000 utilities and 66 power balancing bodies. The nature of the interconnectedness, therefore, results in high levels of vulnerabilities from different sources of attack on the United States power grid. The United States power grid, based on the increasing dependency on the digital connection systems and digital data sharing applications, is now more vulnerable to cybersecurity than ever before (Stamp, McIntyre, & Ricardson, 2009).
Cybersecurity is an emerging threat in most of the global critical infrastructure one of them being the power grid. A cyber-attack occurrence on the United States power grid will have devastating effects to the national security and economic progress of the country based on its interconnectedness to all other critical infrastructures. Therefore, safeguarding the network requires the implementation of appropriate measures to curb any possibilities of its occurrence.
Implications of a Cyber-attack
The highest impact of the cyber attack on the power grid involves the threat to national security as it will open roads for possible terrorist activities based on the death of the surveillance and security systems that highly require power to operate. Furthermore, the disruption of the power grid will delay the response mechanisms put in place by the United States government in case of a terrorist attack. Hence, terrorists will have the advantage to cause a lot of damage to the country (Stamp, McIntyre & Ricardson, 2009). Secondly, based on the potential and the requirement for energy to fuel the United States economy, a cyber-attack on the power grid can inflict a considerable amount of damage on the United States economy. For instance, during the 2003 Northwest blackout, around 50 million citizens were left without power and resulted in an economic loss estimated between 4 to 10 billion dollars.
Furthermore, based on the interconnectedness of the power grid to various critical infrastructure in the United States, an extended period of blackout would be more devastating. All sectors of the economy are connected to the power grid in one way or another to provide the energy required to drive the country. The health industry is also dependent on the reliable and consistent power supply. Therefore, an attack on the power grid will result in increased number of deaths in the hospitals due to lack of life-support systems, water and food scarcity leading to starvation, deterioration of sanitation, disruption of transportation and chaos hence causing a complete collapse of the society (Center for Preventive Action, 2017). Furthermore, the commercial sector especially the financial institutions and the industrial sector especially the manufacturing and processing plants will run into a complete downfall based on their dependence on energy. Losses that are more devastating will be experienced in the insurance sector through interruption of payments. Based on the research filled by Lloyd’s of London and the University of Cambridge a cyber-attack in 15 States in the United States and the major cities of Washington DC and New York will cut off power to over 93 million people and result in estimated economic losses between 243 million to 1 trillion dollars.
Department of Homeland Security Efforts
The Department of Homeland Security has developed various preventive measures to ensure the United States power grip is protected from the potential threat of cyber-attack. The Department of Homeland Security has provided the critical infrastructure partners with a public alert measures on the ICS-CERT website to be watchful for any threats. Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security has established a close working relationship with the Department of Energy and the power management authorities to ensure resilience, reliability and the security of the United States power grid. Furthermore, the Department of Homeland Security collaborated with the ICS-CERT and US-CERT, FBI and the North American Electricity Reliability Corporation and traveled to Ukraine after the 2015 power grid attack in Ukraine to study the incident and identify potential mitigation measures (Case, 2016). DHS has Advisory Council has established a Cybersecurity subcommittee to focus entirely on prevention mechanism on the power grid.
Future Recommendations for Implementation
A collaborative approach between the institutions involved with energy issues and the security institutions should be established to ensure a joint venture in tackling the problem. For instance, while the FBI assists in Cybersecurity investigations, NERC and NCCIC can focus on the detection of malware causing the outage and develop applications to prevent network damage (Center for Preventive Action, 2017).
The United States government should continue with the expansion of the distributed power generation projects in the form of wind, solar and nuclear energy to provide an alternative source of power and help mitigate the impending cyber-attack threats. These alternative forms of energy, however, should not be connected to the grid to ensure, they are not part of the attack that might occur.
Additionally, the United States government should increase the funding to the Department of Homeland Security to undertake research in Cybersecurity and develop mitigation measures to any form of attack on the power grid. More research has the potential of developing the new mechanism to achieve prevention before the real attack takes place (Center for Preventive Action, 2017). Furthermore, deterrence can be applied to enable the criminals to understand the consequences of engaging in Cybersecurity. Harsh charges should be put in place as well as naming and shaming the culprits to ensure the malicious individuals shy away from such activities.
In conclusion, the United States of America’s power grid is highly crucial to the American citizens’ lives and the commercial sector of the country. Due to the interconnectedness of the power grid to other critical infrastructure, it is an easy for cyber-attacks, especially by terrorists. Also, the network plays a vital role in the economy, as industries and other sectors rely exclusively on power supplied through the grid. However, the interconnectedness of the power grid has made it a potential infrastructure facing the threat of cyber-attack. However, the DHS has established various measures to prevent the occurrence of a cyber-attack on the power grid to ensure its reliability, resilience, and security. Moreover, the United States government should focus on increasing funding to DHS for research, develop deterrent measures and establish joint operations towards preventing the cyber-attack on the power.
Case, D. U. (2016). Analysis of the Cyber Attack on the Ukrainian Power Grid. Industrial Control Systems. Retrieved 23 October from https://ics.sans.org/media/E-ISAC_SANS_Ukraine_DUC_5.pdf
Center for Preventive Action. (2017). A cyber attack on the U.S. Power Grid: Contigency Panning Memorandum No. 31. Retrieved 22 October from https://www.cfr.org/report/cyberattack-us-power-grid
Stamp, J., McIntyre, A., & Ricardson, B. (2009, March). Reliability impacts from cyber-attack on electric power systems. In Power Systems Conference and Exposition, 2009. PSCE’09. IEEE/PES (pp. 1-8). IEEE.