Quantcast
Connect with us

A massive power outage like Argentina’s could happen in the US

Published

on

Argentina and Uruguay are recovering from nationwide power blackouts that cut electricity to tens of millions of people, including some in Paraguay, Chile and Brazil. The blackout’s cause is under investigation, but something similar could happen in the U.S. – and has.

On Aug. 14, 2003, a software bug contributed to a blackout that left 50 million people across nine U.S. northeastern states and a Canadian province without power. The outage lasted for as long as four days, with rolling blackouts in some areas for days after that.

ADVERTISEMENT

That event wasn’t caused by an attacker, but many of the recommendations of the final incident report focused on cybersecurity. More than 15 years later, the stakes of a long-term outage are even higher, as American business and society are even more dependent on electronic devices and international military forces are preparing for battles in cyberspace. Scholars around the country are studying the problem of protecting the grid from cyberattacks and software flaws. Several of them have written about their work for The Conversation:

1. Attacks could be hard to detect

Though the software error that amplified the 2003 U.S. blackout was not the result of a cyberattack, power grid scholar Michael McElfresh at Santa Clara University explains that a clever attacker could disguise the intrusion “as something as simple as a large number of apparent customers lowering their thermostat settings in a short period on a peak hot day.”

2. Grid targets are tempting

Iowa State University’s Manimaran Govindarasu and Washington State University’s Adam Hahn, both grid security scholars, noted that the grid is an attractive target for hackers, who could shut off power to large numbers of people: “It happened in Ukraine in 2015 and again in 2016, and it could happen here in the U.S., too.”

3. What to do now?

In another article, Govindarasu and Hahn went on to describe the level to which “Russians had penetrated the computers of multiple U.S. electric utilities and were able to gain … privileges that were sufficient to cause power outages.”

The response, they wrote, involves extending federal grid-security regulations to “all utility companies – even the smallest,” having “all companies that are part of the grid participate in coordinated grid exercises to improve cybersecurity preparedness and share best practices” and – crucially – insisting that power utilities “ensure the hardware and software they use are from trustworthy sources and have not been tampered with or modified to allow unauthorized users in.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Those steps won’t prevent software bugs, but they could reduce the likelihood of attackers exploiting computer systems’ vulnerabilities to shut off the lights.

4. Restructuring the grid itself

To protect against all types of threats to the grid – including natural and human-caused ones – engineering professor Joshua M. Pearce at Michigan Technological University suggests generating energy at many locations around the country, rather than in centralized power plants. He reports that his research has found that connecting those smaller power producers together with nearby electricity users would make supply more reliable, less vulnerable and cheaper. In fact, he found the U.S. military “could generate all of its electricity from distributed renewable sources by 2025 using … microgrids.”

At least that way a small problem with the grid would be less likely to spread and become a major problem for tens of millions of people, like the Northeast Blackout of 2003 – and like the Argentina-Uruguay blackout of 2019.

ADVERTISEMENT

Editor’s note: This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation’s archives. It is an updated version of an article originally published Aug. 14, 2018.

(You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter.)The Conversation

ADVERTISEMENT

Jeff Inglis, Science + Technology Editor, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Trump cold-calling friends to launch ‘woe-is-me’ monologues during summer of death and turmoil: report

Published

on

President Donald Trump has been moaning about his political misfortunes in calls with friends, as the coronavirus pandemic, nationwide racial protests and widespread unemployment threatens his re-election chances.

The president doesn't even bother with pleasantries anymore, friends told the Washington Post, and instead launches immediately into "woe-is-me" monologues.

Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

‘His dementia is obvious’: Internet mocks Trump for bragging he ‘aced’ a cognitive test

Published

on

Back in November President Donald Trump was rushed to Walter Reed Medical Center. The White House never told the American people the real reason, claiming he was having a portion of his annual physical done early because he was going to be busy the following year.

POTUS health. WH says Saturday trip to hospital was “routine” & he’s “fine” despite break from past practices. Here is glimpse of Pres Trump and what appears to be WH physician Sean Conley getting into motorcade. Watch. (h/t @WinstonNBC) pic.twitter.com/8ZynFF2ytQ

Continue Reading
 

2020 Election

Trump is in a ‘death spiral’ with women — even his female 2016 voters are ‘running for the exits’: GOP consultant

Published

on

With less than four months to go before the 2020 presidential election, President Donald Trump's poll numbers keep sliding downward -- and one GOP consultant believes that even many of the women who backed him in 2016 are ready to jump ship.

Writing in The Bulwark, Longwell Partners CEO Sarah Longwell reveals that recent focus groups she's conducted with women who backed Trump in 2016 show that the president has finally isolated many of them with his responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and the police killing of George Floyd.

Continue Reading
 
 
You need honest news coverage. Help us deliver it. Join Raw Story Investigates for $1. Go ad-free.
close-image