It’s no secret that preppers don’t trust the government. And it’s not just because we think they’re up to some nefarious shenanigans. We also know that the government is often inept, and can’t be trusted to take care of us in an emergency. Many of us wouldn’t be preppers in the first place if this weren’t true.
However, you have to give credit where credit is due, and for once, it seems like the government deserves a little recognition. The Pentagon has just revealed their plan for dealing with cyber attacks that might take down our nation’s power grid. At first glance it appears to be pretty solid, and I give them kudos for at least trying to shore up a serious risk. As you’ll see however, this plan has a few holes in it.
Their plan, which has been dubbed the Rapid Attack Detection, Isolation, and Characterization (RADICS), involves a sophisticated automated system that would help mitigated the risk of an attack, or at least stifle its damaging effects. The Pentagon hopes that even with a worse case scenario they would be able to bring the grid back online within 7 days (assuming the attack is only digital in nature).
One of the aims of RADICS is to develop detection systems with high sensitivity and low false positive rates, by studying exactly how power grid’s dynamics.
RADICS also calls for the design of a secure emergency network that could connect power suppliers in the moments after an attack.
‘Isolating affected utilities from the internet would enable recovery efforts to proceed without adversary surveillance and interference,’ Everett said.
‘Providing an alternative means for online coordination would enable a more orderly restoration of power among affected organisations.’
Finally, the RADICS will research systems that can localise and characterise malicious software.
The plan sure sounds slick. However, it doesn’t really give us much more safety than we had before, and here’s why:
While the internet has probably made our power system more efficient, it has also made it far more vulnerable to disruption. We’ve essentially traded resilience for efficiency. And unfortunately, this RADICS plan is merely a bandaid on top of a very substantial vulnerability. A vulnerability that has already been exploited. Take a look at this interview CBS did with their former anchor Ted Koppel, who recently finished an extensive investigation into our power grid.
“It’s frightening,” Koppel said. “I mean, it is frightening enough that my wife and I decided we were going to buy enough freeze-dried food for all of our kids and their kids.”
“Who are the potential perpetrators here?” Reid asked. “Who do we have to fear the most? Is it Russia? China? Iran? Terrorists? Individual actors?”
“All those. The interesting thing, Chip, is the ones who are most capable are the ones least likely to do it.
“There are some experts who say they’re already in.”
“Well, they are in. There’s no question about it. They are already in the grid. I was told that by the former Chief Scientist of NSA, he stated categorically the Russians are in, the Chinese are in. The Iranians may be on the verge of getting in. And then at the bottom of the capability scale are folks like ISIS, terrorist groups.”
So nations like Russia and China have already infiltrated our grid, and presumably, could take it down whenever they like without any physical force. We’ve reacted to that threat by creating another automated, interconnected system that could theoretically insulate us from any attack. In other words, we’re protecting one hackable system with another hackable system.
What their new plan really amounts to, is a new step in a digital arms race between the US and other world powers. This is a race which we will either win or lose, and we’ve been losing it for a long time. Does the Pentagon really think that they’re going to turn it all around now?
A far better solution would be to decouple our power grid from the internet, which would help us avoid this existential threat entirely. It sounds crazy, but there’s actually a small percentage of rural power grids that still aren’t plugged in, so to speak. And in any case, the grid worked quite well for a long time before the internet ever took root.
Surely the government will say that this new system is more secure. However, that’s like saying the Titanic is unsinkable. All digital systems are capable of being hacked, without exception. The Pentagon thinks they have a silver bullet solution, but at the end of the day we have the same choice we’ve always had since the proliferation of the internet.
On the one hand, we could have a resilient system with less efficiency. On the other hand, we can engage in a digital arms race with the world’s superpowers, which we may or may not win. Taking that option amounts to flipping a coin to see whose civilization will be completely obliterated without a single shot being fired, if war should occur. The safest option is to stick with resilience, with all its faults, and not flip that coin in the first place.