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U.S. power grid sabotaged

Posting in Energy

The power is out for many U.S. citizens due to extreme weather, and that’s the most typical cause of an outage. However, something much more nefarious nearly happened in California last year when an act of clandestine sabotage was committed.

CBS News’s Bruce Kennedy is today reporting that a PG&G electrical substation in the San Jose, Calif., area was attacked last April. Saboteurs severed key telecommunications lines and used high-powered rifles to damage transformers. Some experts told the Wall Street Journal that the late night attack was terrorism.

That may or may not be the proper characterization, but it was clearly done with ill intentions. There was no major outage as a consequence, but it’s raising the alarm about infrastructure security – a topic of greater interest in the post 9/11 world.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security classified a 2007 report on the power grid’s vulnerabilities, which was later released in 2012. Kennedy’s article cited the report’s conclusion that a small number of well-informed attackers could cause major disruptions to the U.S. power grid leading to acute economic consequences and potentially thousands of deaths attributed to heat stress or exposure to cold.

There are things that can be done to rectify cyber attacks, but physical security is another matter entirely. Security and risk management isn’t limited to the Internet.

We explored how hardened the nation’s smart grid systems are in 2012. Experts warned against making overarching statements about the grid’s vulnerability, but noted that awareness of the problem has grown and that utilities are working through security issues gradually. The U.S has increased its cyber security and been found to have engaged in cyber warfare, potentially letting the genie out of the bottle. 

There have been incidents of cyber attacks against U.S. Navy computers, U.S. banks, and various government agencies within the past two years. Those attacks came from overseas; the attack in California happened within the U.S. boarders. 

No arrests have been made in the San Jose incident, which is alarming, because nothing is usually done to rectify threats until after a major incident has happened. The threat is always clear in retrospect, and few ever have the foresight to act.

(image credit: CBS)

— By on February 7, 2014, 4:20 PM PST

David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure