USA today reports that a massive attack by yet unknown perpetrators disrupted the net yesterday:
“If you live on the East Coast and had trouble accessing Twitter, Spotify Netflix, Amazon or Reddit Friday morning, you were not alone.” http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2016/10/21/cyber-attack-takes-down-east-coast-netflix-spotify-twitter/92507806/
Dyn, a New Hampshire-based company that monitors and routes Internet traffic, was the victim.
For most of us, if we were affected at all, it turned out to be a minor inconvenience.
However, cyberattacks can cause a lot more trouble than what just occurred.
About a year ago, Emmy and Peabody Award winner Ted Koppel released a new book, "Lights Out: A
Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath." It’s about what happens when terrorists go
after U.S. power grids.
Koppel knows what he’s talking about, and there’s a lot more to worry about than mere cyberattacks.
Disregarding the damage caused by assholes shooting insulators during hunting season, our power grid, the transmission lines that comprise it, and the massive transformers that supply it are extremely vulnerable to destruction from solar storms.
Solar coronal mass ejections (CMEs) can cause severe damage, resulting in potentially massive and long-lasting
A CME is an unusually large release of plasma from the solar corona. If the ejection is directed towards Earth the shock wave of the traveling mass of energetic particles causes a geomagnetic storm that releases power on the order of terawatt scale. (A terawatt is equal to one trillion watts - the total power used by humans worldwide is commonly measured in terawatts)
The first recorded CME occurred on September 1, 1859, and is now referred to as the Carrington Event, or the
solar storm of 1859.
The storm took down the recently created US telegraph network, starting fires and shocking telegraph operators.
On July 23, 2012, a massive and potentially damaging CME barely missed Earth, according to NASA.
There is an estimated 10-20% chance of a similar event actually hitting Earth within the next 10 years.
A really big CME hitting the earth head on strikes fear into the hearts of U.S. power companies. There’s so much energy dumped on the planet that power lines will heat up and sag to the ground. That energy can saturate the cores of transformers burning out the insulation: literally welding the innards of railroad car sized electrical equipment into useless scrap. A Carrington-class CME could fry a large fraction of the power grid in as little as 90 seconds. It takes between six months to a year to make one of these main line transformers. The factories that make them are overseas and in a worldwide emergency the U.S. would likely be wait-listed. The sheer number required to repair the grid could mean vast areas would be without power for years.
Protecting key installations is actually very doable. It involves installing surge protectors and what are called “shunts” to divert excess power that keeps the transformer cores from melting down. The U.S. military infrastructure — long ago hardened for nuclear war — is fully protected. Countries such as Russia and China have most of their
grid protected as do a number of smaller nations. The U.S. commercial power grid is not presently so protected.
Why the hell not?