America's energy crisis: How the Colonial Pipeline was shut down by a cyberattack
America is facing a national energy crisis.
On May 7th, 2021, one of the largest refined fuel pipelines in the United States.
The colonial pipeline experienced a cyber attack that shut down fuel delivery between the Gulf Coast and the East Coast.
The pipeline itself spans almost 5,500 miles It carries millions of gallons of fuel per day.
It was the target of ransomware a scheme where attackers seize control of the computer systems using code and then demand money to release the systems back to the company.
The FBI blamed the attack on a group called dark side the following Monday The company managed to take certain systems offline to contain the threat and plan to restore service by the end of the week.
The Colonial Pipeline is vital for several airports along the Eastern Seaboard of the US, in addition to military bases throughout the Southeast and the aftermath of the attack, panic buying, spurred by fears of fuel shortages and rising gas prices.
Left several gas stations with long lines as people hoarded gasoline.
The attack itself expose how vulnerable the US energy infrastructure is.
How did we get here?
America's power grid is based on designs from the late 1800s.
The goal was to provide electricity to as many people as possible at the lowest possible cost.
The problem is the original power grids were designed to meet the needs of the early 1900s.
And although there have been incremental advances, these systems are outdated America's power grid hasn't been updated since the 1960s.
Americans consume about 5 to 6 times the amount of electricity as the average person.
And the US electric grid loses power 3 times more often today than in 1984.
This equipment was designed.
30,40,50 years ago, it was designed to do specific things.
Run a motor, open a valve, run an assembly line.
So the concept of thinking ahead of time didn't occur.
This is Joe Weiss He's the managing partner of applied control solutions in Cupertino, California, and the managing director of ISC 99.
The International Society of automation that works to set international standards on control systems cybersecurity.
Weiss has documented over 1300 incidents of power failure in the US electrical system caused by cyber attacks.
Very good example of how you could bring the grid down for months, not hours or days, months is a vulnerability that was all the Aurora of vulnerability.>> The Idaho national laboratory ran the Aurora generator test In 2007, to demonstrate how a cyber attack could destroy physical components of the electric grid.
The experiment used a computer program to rapidly open and close a diesel generator circuit breakers out of phase from the rest of the grid and caused it to explode.
Another way hackers could penetrate American power grid is there backdoors built into the hardware, the physical equipment frequently purchased by foreign manufacturers.
It can often be found in the three main grids of the United States.
The Eastern connection, the western connection and ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
In 2019, a Chinese built transformer weighing between 250 and 500 tons was seized by the Department of Energy and Department of Homeland Security from the port of Houston.
It was taken to Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
For unspecified reasons.
It's believed that the transformer was seized because of fears of backdoor electronics, which could be activated or timed by a Chinese manufacturer to change the operation, and affect the US electric grid.
Were this electronics was installed, there was no data to steal.
The only thing you could do was to either take over the control or damage or destroy that piece of equipment.
On May 1 2020, President Donald Trump signed Executive Order 13 920 which directed utilities, not to purchase both power systems from adversaries.
It is believed this order was the result of what was found in the CS transformer.
So, part of the issue is when you have 200 large transformers throughout throughout the country, you could cause an immense amount of grief not just in one place.
How can the US make the grid more secure?
Weatherize the power grid with cybersecurity in mind?
In February, Texas experienced an extreme winter storm.
What was once considered a rare statewide event Called energy facilities to fail.
I left millions of Texas residents without electricity, or clean running water.
And although what occurred in Texas was not the result of any cyber attack.
Joe Weiss says, the event itself exposed vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit.
Cyber is, in a sense part, and parcel of climate change.
Because that's when you're gonna need remote access technology is there to make things more productive.
They cannot use it.
It's making it productive.
So, the issue is, and this is a real ethical question.
What point and for what equipment will you not put in some of this technology, if you know it can make you susceptible?
Create more accessible and reliable energy storage.
Fossil fuel power plants are generally built far away from population centers.
Which means that the power has to be shipped long distances.
A smart grid would enable a two way flow of electricity with backup generators and energy storage systems in place that would have the ability to send power if For example, the wind turbines went down.
In March, Tesla began construction of a gigantic battery connected to the state's power grid at the hornsdale power reserve, a facility that can receive and store energy from nearby wind and solar farms.
The 100 megawatt battery could power about 20,000 homes on a hot summer day.
Finally, invest in renewable energy sources.
Adopting renewable energy sources is a better long term investment for more sustainable and secure power grid.
Although these solutions are a good start to address the power grids vulnerabilities, Joe White says is a lot more work to be done to safeguard the US power grid from cyber security threat.
This is a problem that's 30 40 years in the making.
It's existential to this country.
And we are not addressing what needs to be done.
We can't keep ignoring.
The bad guys aren't.
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