Weird California Incident Last Year Points To The Real Threat To The Power Grid (Hint: It's Not Cyberattacks)
from the uncommon-common-sense dept
Via Bruce Schneier's blog, we learn of the following intriguing story published in Foreign Policy:
Around 1:00 AM on April 16, at least one individual (possibly two) entered two different manholes at the PG&E Metcalf power substation, southeast of San Jose, and cut fiber cables in the area around the substation. That knocked out some local 911 services, landline service to the substation, and cell phone service in the area, a senior U.S. intelligence official told Foreign Policy. The intruder(s) then fired more than 100 rounds from what two officials described as a high-powered rifle at several transformers in the facility. Ten transformers were damaged in one area of the facility, and three transformer banks -- or groups of transformers -- were hit in another, according to a PG&E spokesman.
Oil then leaked from the transformers, causing them to overheat and shut down. However, there were no major power outages, and no long-term damage. The Foreign Policy post gives a good summary of what we do and don't know, and is well-worth reading in full. As Schneier comments:
The article worries that this might be a dry-run to some cyberwar-like attack, but that doesn't make sense. But it's just too complicated and weird to be a prank.
Feel free to theorize in the comments about what happened last April. Absent further information, I'd like to focus here on the following perceptive analysis from the article:
Anyone have any ideas?
At the very least, the attack points to an arguably overlooked physical threat to power facilities at a time when much of the U.S. intelligence community, Congress, and the electrical power industry is focused on the risk of cyber attacks. There has never been a confirmed power outage caused by a cyber attack in the United States. But the Obama administration has sought to promulgate cyber security standards that power facilities could use to minimize the risk of one.
This fixation on "cybersecurity" is something that Techdirt has been pointing out for a while. It seems largely driven by canny defense and security companies hungry for profitable contracts, which are able to take advantage of politicians intimidated by technology and worried about seeming "soft" on "cyberterror." Kudos, then, to Jon Wellinghoff, the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, who seems to have more common sense than most of his colleagues:
A shooter "could get 200 yards away with a .22 rifle and take the whole thing out," Wellinghoff said last month at a conference sponsored by Bloomberg. His proposed defense: A metal sheet that would block the transformer from view. "If you can't see through the fence, you can't figure out where to shoot anymore," Wellinghoff said. Price tag? A "couple hundred bucks." A lot cheaper than the billions the administration has spent in the past four years beefing up cyber security of critical infrastructure in the United States and on government computer networks.