The Power to Socially Kill U.S.

Electric power is our societal engine and could soon be the reason for our societal demise.  The dependence on electric power and the threat from enemies who wish to debilitate our existence is coming together quickly.  When they do collide, it could be catastrophic to our way of life; even if we recover physically. Electric power is a basis for most technology use, our schedules, our communications and creativity.  We need “juice” in ways other less advanced countries do. Our need for speed could at some point cripple us and there seems to be nothing we can do about it.

I can’t imagine a day when a millennial can’t check Instagram as they wake, or a successful stockbroker goes broke because he has no access to data that has made him successful.  Worse, there may be no preordering of lattes. However, if there is a widespread power outage in a metropolitan area, not a small one, but the kind that lasts for years, we will see it.  Worse, real needs like food, water and sanitation will either test our character or bring out the worst in us as human being.

In Ted Koppel’s book “Lights Out” he chronical the need to plan for these energy destruction scenarios at the legislative level.  If you are not familiar with him, Mr. Koppel was one of the premiere news anchors of our time. In his 2016 book, he reveals that a devastating cyberattack on America’s power grid is not only possible, but likely.  Most importantly, he examined how prepared we are and sought answers from leading officials at the Department of Homeland Security and Congress. Their responses painted the picture that we are shockingly unprepared as a nation.  His book clearly shows that while the federal government is well prepared for natural disasters, it has no plan for the aftermath of an attack on the power grid. The former Secretary of Homeland Security even suggested the answer was to keep a battery-powered radio. The funny part is that in a widespread power outage there would be nothing to listen to on that radio.

Not Prepared for a Power Outage

In 2019, we are still no better prepared for a potential calamity from the loss of widespread and prolonged power outages.  This is as the threat grows exponentially. It has been reported and confirmed that in 2016, the Russians were in our power grids.  If you are asking, “so what Mike,” think about it this way – What if a pedophile was allowed to sit at the lunch table next to your child for lunch every day?  If at anytime that animal decides to offend your child, it would have life-lasting consequences. Your child would never be the same. This is how we need to see our power grid; as something so special to us that its protection is paramount.

Reuters reported that the Department of Homeland Security and FBI finally admitted that there were intrusions in our electrical grid and finally sent an alert.  The message from Government officials confirmed that a “multi-stage intrusion campaign by Russian government cyber actors” had targeted the networks of small commercial facilities “where they staged malware, conducted spear phishing, and gained remote access into energy sector networks.”  

You still don’t care?  Not coincidently, the year 2016 was the same year the Russians hacked our elections.  So, this can’t be overlooked as a national security issue; it affects all Americans. While in the grid, an adversary not only positions themselves for the future, but begins to understand the security mechanisms to work around them when required.  The Russians have a long recent history of leading military attacks on enemies with a cyber-attack to debilitate critical infrastructure. It is a quite effective technique. Ask the Georgians and Ukrainians. I hope we never have to test our ability to fight with our hands tied behind our backs.  A loss of electrical systems pre-war is the equivalent as will show our ability to fight with one hand.

Political leaders are void of answers as to how we plan for these real threat scenarios.  Here is the typical answer, and I admit a prudent one. Officials will respond like this when asked how we secure our electrical grid?   

The goal is to have a set of “best practices” that use “best available technologies” coupled with model laws that would help fend off attacks.”

So, does this also mean that this issue is beyond us and we can’t get the Russians out at this point?  In any case, the answer is not good enough. We need “A” work here and “C” work could mean catastrophic results with impacts to an electrical grid and cataclysmic results on our free and open society.

Prepare to Survive  

To prepare for our reality, we need to come to some realities that have not been addressed in the minds of all citizens.  For instance, a recent report showed how Russian hackers are 8 times as fast and efficient at hacking than other hackers from around the world.  This mean they are building a proficiency that we have no choice, but to counter. Currently, we won’t even deal with the fact the Russians hacked our elections.  So, how do we address an emerging issue that requires partnership, collaboration, resources and training?

The New York Times is now reporting that the U.S. has escalated attacks on the Russian power grids. We have shifted towards an offensive strategy as a solution.  This is an initiative or military approach that must be included in our strategy. However, we need a socio-teaching and preparation approach; a holistic approach to resilience.  The consequences of a successful attack on our power grid would not just turn the lights out on U.S. residents. It would silence our calls to greatness, make our days black and white, and end the world as we know it for all U.S. regions affected.  In this new world, people don’t have to stop breathing for us to die as a casualty of war.

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