Cyber War: U.S. Electric Grid is Riddled With Cyber Security Holes


Electric grids give electricity to about 300 million people nationwide each day and are used to help ensure national security and economic growth. However, after a report released by Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), it had been discovered that malicious computer worms have been attacking electric grids, causing the companies involved to have losses in both energy and money. These attacks have spread to the nation's power plants and have the potential to cost the economy billions of dollars in losses.

After researching over 100 utility companies, they discovered that many have claimed to have had frequent cyber attacks. One company even reported to having been attacked about 10,000 times each month. However, most of these utilities abide by only mandatory security standards, not the additional voluntary ones. 

A computer worm has the ability to replicate itself, allowing the worm to create hundreds or even thousands of copies of itself. However, consuming too much system memory could lead to network servers, Web servers, and the like to becoming unresponsive.

Although it has been known that national security experts deemed electric grids to be at the top of the target list for terrorist attacks and rogue states, they are still very vulnerable. Their vulnerability is largely due to their aging infrastructure and poor protection. They are potentially highly susceptible to attacks from countries who cyber probe through our nation's networks, such as North Korea and Iran, or problems created by geomagnetic storms.  The entire electrical transmission network is valued at $1 trillion, making one brownout cost the economy $10 billion. In addition, regular annual power outages and other disturbances can cost the U.S. economy between $119 and $188 billion dollars or more.

With regards to nuclear power plants, David Cronin, a principal of power generation for Booz Allen, believes the rapid growth of computer worms within the companies is due to employees either downloading items that have been corrupted by rogue software such as malware and spyware, or connecting infected devices such as a mobile phone to their systems network. To control this issue, he says to "install firewalls, apply patches and to always perform upgrades." If something isn't done soon, the nation could be at risk for a massive power outage, resulting in millions going without the basic needs that electricity satisfies.

To mend this ongoing problem, Congressman Markey suggested that we should "push electric utilities to enlist all of the measures they can now, and push for stronger standards in Congress that will keep our economy and our country safe from cyber warfare."