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Will Grid Attacks Continue to Climb?

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Henry Craver's picture
Small Business Owner , Self-employed

As a small business owner, I'm always trying to find ways to cut costs and boost the dependability of my services. To that end, I've become increasingly invested in learning about energy saving...

  • Member since 2018
  • 773 items added with 364,080 views
  • Mar 22, 2023

There were a lot more physical attacks on the American grid last year than any other on record. 163 in 2022 vs 94 in 2020, to be specific. However, it isn’t clear if this is a mere aberration from the mean or the beginning of a worrying upward trend. There are reasons, however, to fear that it is the latter. 

In January of 2022 year, the Department of Homeland Security warned of credible and specific plans to attack the grid by domestic terrorists, but didn’t get much into specifics. 

Attacks on the country’s power grid have been frequent for a long time, but what makes these recent efforts noteworthy is their relative success. Historically, the vast majority of non-cyber grid infrastructure attacks have failed to cut power to many people. 

That isn’t true of the most recent attacks. The North Carolina attack in December left around 45,000 people without electricity and the criminals still haven’t been found. A few weeks later, two men attacked substations in Washington state, leaving thousands without power and causing millions in damage. The PG&E substation bombing left around 1,000 without power, and got lots of media attention for how it was carried out and the man’s supposed racist motives. 

The success of these recent attacks, along with Russia’s well publicized campaign against Ukraine’s grid, might very well be drawing the attention of bad actors to our grid. I hope I’m wrong, but this prognosis makes a lot of sense. The grid is a vulnerable target, with big transmission lines and the likes often being located in rural, out of the way places where they’re hard to guard. A small-scale rudimentary attack can cause big problems, as we’ve just seen. It’s low hanging fruit for nefarious actors. 

Grid infrastructure has always been vulnerable, but now bad people know about it. I fear that we might be entering a phase of copycat grid vandalism. The copycat phenomenon in crime refers to the idea that certain types of crimes or behaviors can inspire or influence others to imitate them. This can occur through media coverage of a crime, as well as through personal connections or relationships with the perpetrator.

One example of the copycat effect can be seen in the proliferation of school shootings in the United States. After a high-profile shooting occurs, it is not uncommon for other individuals to become inspired by the attention and notoriety gained by the perpetrator, and to plan and carry out similar attacks. The copycat phenomenon can also be seen in the spread of other types of crimes, such as serial killings or terrorist attacks.

From the small amount of data we have, it seems that a media blackout on specific types of crimes really do work to end the copycat cycle. Remember how common streaking was at sports events? Then, in the 2000’s I think, they just started turning camera’s away from the nudists and sure enough the incidents began to decline sharply. 

Unfortunately, albeit for good reasons, our media outlets cannot be expected to do the same thing with critical infrastructure attacks. These are news stories that must be covered. 

If this sort of terrorism does take hold, how can it be stamped out? Or, if it can’t be controlled, how do we protect the power lines and the like from it? It would seem a daunting take considering that we can’t even protect our grid infrastructure from squirrels and birds. I’m all ears though.



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Henry Craver's picture
Thank Henry for the Post!
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