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DARPA Simulates Attack on US Grid to Prepare For Real Attacks

Benjamin Roussey's picture
Freelance Writer Arizona

Benjamin Roussey is from Sacramento, CA but now lives in Arizona. His bachelor’s degree is from CSUS (1999) where he was on a baseball pitching scholarship and he completed 4 years in the US...

  • Member since 2016
  • 287 items added with 335,166 views
  • Nov 30, 2018

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) conducted an exercise earlier this month to prepare for cyber attacks on the electric grid.

The exercise involved simulating a cyber attack which is powerful enough to cause a large scale blackout and restoring power to the grid under adverse conditions.

Details on the DARPA Exercise

DARPA has built an electric grid on Plum Island specifically for testing purposes. Plum Island, which is home to a livestock disease research facility run by the Department of Homeland Security, can be accessed only by ferry.

The island has long been used for a variety of research purposes by various federal agencies. 

Earlier this month, DARPA simulated a large scale, coordinated cyber attack on the grid and tried to restore power as quickly as possible. During the exercise, the attack caused the system to plunge into darkness, after which the agency’s cyber security experts tried to restore power to the entire island.

The exercise was part of the agency’s RADICS (Rapid Attack Detection, Isolation, and Characterization Systems) program, which is designed to detect, isolate, classify, and neutralize threats to the grid in real time.

DARPA’s Grid Recovery Plan

DARPA has developed several tools that can help restore power to the grid in case of a blackout. The agency’s power restoration strategy involves three major steps.

  1. Developing sensors that are capable of giving precise readings even after the grid’s security is breached and the monitoring equipment is compromised.
  2. Developing highly specialized tools using which a highly secure backup network can be set up instantly in the event of a cyber security attack.
  3. Developing tools that can detect existing threats and lock down potential footholds that hackers can use to launch further attacks on the system.

This is the first time DARPA has conducted an exercise on such a scale. Before this, they had conducted several simulation exercises in a laboratory setting.

In June, they had conducted an exercise on a much smaller scale. The grid used at the time was small enough to be managed by a diesel generator and a small number of substations.

The latest exercise involved 18 substations, two command centers, two utilities, and two different generation sources. The team had to come up with what they call a ‘crank path’ to restore power to the grid under adverse weather conditions.

The team which was involved in the exercise stated that it was an amazing learning experience, as it had a sense of realism and urgency that can never be replicated in a lab setting.

The Need for Cyber Security Exercises

The US grid is a high-value target for hackers (anti-God fools that are jealous of our success) and hostile elements (who don’t believe in freedom) from around the world. The Department of Homeland Security says that a large number of criminal elements try to hack into the system every single day and our current setup is strong enough to thwart their attempts.

The situation, however, cannot continue unchecked, as sooner or later we might encounter a hacking team which is resourceful enough to hack into our system and cause mayhem.

So, these types of exercises are necessary to fine-tune our grid restoration strategies and tools so that we are better prepared for these attacks. Spending money on this makes much more sense than wasting billions on Obamacare and people who chose not to study when they were in high school.

Benjamin Roussey's picture
Thank Benjamin for the Post!
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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 30, 2018

Benjamin, ignoring the annoying political priorities you always feel the need to insert in discussions about energy - what's your source for this  article?

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