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The Hail Mary Plan to Restart a Hacked US Electric Grid
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CrimsonPhantom Offline
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The Hail Mary Plan to Restart a Hacked US Electric Grid
Quote:In his years-long career developing software for power grids, Stan McHann had never before heard the ominous noise that rang out last Wednesday. Standing in the middle of a utility command center, he flinched as a cyberattack tripped the breakers in all seven of the grid's low voltage substations, plunging the system into darkness. "I heard all the substations trip off and it was just like bam bam bam bam bam bam bam bam," McHann says. "The power’s out. All you can do is say, OK, we have to start from scratch bringing the power back up. You just take a deep breath and dig in."

Thankfully, what McHann experienced wasn't the first-ever blackout caused by a cyberattack in the United States. Instead, it was part of a live, week-long federal research exercise in which more than 100 grid and cybersecurity experts worked to restore power to an isolated, custom-built test grid.

In doing so they faced not just blackout conditions and rough weather, but also a group of fellow researchers throwing a steady barrage of cyberattacks their way, hoping to stymie their progress just as a real enemy might.


Power Play

Funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the exercise, which ran the first week of November, served as a testing scenario for seven DARPA-developed grid recovery tools.

But while the situation was manufactured, the conditions of the exercise were all too real. Researchers built their test grid off of the already isolated power grid on Plum Island, a Department of Homeland Security animal disease research facility at the tip of Long Island's North Fork. Roughly the size of Manhattan's Central Park, Plum Island sits about three miles offshore in the Long Island Sound, and is accessible only by ferry. In addition to DHS's livestock research facility, Plum Island is also home to ruins from armaments and fortresses built during World War I and II, pristine beaches, a lighthouse built in 1898, and even packs of gregarious harbor seals in the winter.

The result: A surreal combination of utilitarian federal operations, breathtaking natural habitat, untapped Hamptons real estate, and a nagging sense of foreboding. (Despite persistent conspiracy theories, DHS representatives patiently but firmly deny that there is anything creepy about the island.)

"When we first started the program, we were working in university labs and simulating everything," says Walter Weiss, the DARPA program manager who oversees the agency's research into restoring power to a dead grid—what utilities call "black start."

During one early RADICS meeting, Weiss convinced the host university to cut power to the floor the team was on, forcing researchers to consider how the tools they were developing would remain effective during a blackout. "We said, 'Imagine you're going to an island,'" Weiss says, laughing.
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(This post was last modified: 11-15-2018 01:39 PM by CrimsonPhantom.)
11-15-2018 01:38 PM
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Captain Bearcat Offline
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RE: The Hail Mary Plan to Restart a Hacked US Electric Grid
The risk of this happening is low. The amount of resources required means this type of attack could only be launched by a nation-state. And they'd only do it if we were at war.
11-16-2018 03:02 PM
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