back to article Power grid takedown: A new how-to

A well targeted attack against a small power grid subnetwork might result in a cascading failure across the entire US West Coast electricity grid, according to a Chinese academic. A team led by Jian-Wei Wang, a network analyst at China's Dalian University of Technology, discovered the potential weakness after using publicly …

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Silver badge

As clear as mud ....

"The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is reportedly poring over the report, released last November ..."

Does that inform us that US DHS has been 10 months working on a fix, which would indicate that they would still not/may still not have a fix [indeed it may be one of those things you just have to live with and defend yourself against as best you can], or are they still just thinking about it, or have only now been made aware of it?

All of which are inexcusable given the likely result of shenanigans.

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Grenade

Say what?

With the poor condition the west coasts' power is in, we don't need any enemy help in bringing it down.

Besides, aren't we doing the same thing to them? Don't we have Jack Bauer and James Bond type people in place in China, Russia, and other Godforsaken places (like Milton Keynes) to do the same thing to them?

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Anonymous Coward

1996 as well

there was also a blackout down the west coast - part of canada all the way into mexico and across to texas - due to one supply line from oregon into california failing causing an overload on a generating station which went into a safety shutdown causing an overload on the next generating station ... and you get the idea.

I was in california at the time and the amazing thing was though that while most of the supply was off it was by no means uniform and some blocks had power while other right next door didn't.

The other thing I remember was someone from the local electricity company on TV telling people not to be worried by the blackouts and assuring viewers that the US has "the finest electricity in the world"

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Bronze badge

Really good news

If such a study is allowed to be openly published in China, apparently it has no ambitions in this area.

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Paris Hilton

@1996 AC

It's actually the same issue that GMail had a couple of weeks ago - one segment gets overloaded so it fails over, then the next segment gets overloaded and fails over, etc etc until all nodes are down. Someone made the point that this is what happens when individual nodes are built for resiliency and not the system as a whole - flood one node and it's just a matter of time before you take the whole system down.

Paris, well she knows all about taking a node down.

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Joke

Old News

Enron achieved this some time ago!

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China?

Interesting that the Chinese are studying ways to bring down US infrastructure and are so open about it. Maybe they are assuming they need to defend against similar attacks on China and use the US West Coast as an example of how not to do it.

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Joke

@Tim77

Pah..Enron....Take out a couple of US mortgage brokers and the whole worlds finacial system collapses...

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Rob
Go

@AC 14:59

Sounds like the same problem that took the Titanic down, history seems to be making a good point.

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Happy

Say what you want about Texas

but we do have our own power grid, and it is the healthiest and most robust in the nation.

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Silver badge
FAIL

You can

Do the same thing in the UK,

Take out 3 parts of the national grid and the whole lot falls over faster than an MP trying to pick up an expenses reciept

There again in 8 years time it wont make any difference because we wont have the power stations to power up the grid anyway

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E 2

@JohnG

John, almost all serious countries study each other in this manner.

Gulf War 1 & Gulf War 2 featured info-war and anti-C3I directed against Iraq, and Iraq couldn't manufacture a transistor for love or money.

Certainly in a war between USA and PRC, info-war and anti-C3I would play large parts. Imagine: the country with premier science & tech and good manufacturing versus the country with premier manufacturing and good tech. Who would win?

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WTF?

Really?

"Our engineers are working on a self-limiting, high-temperature superconductor technology which would stop and prevent power surges generated anywhere in the system from spreading to other substations."

Sounds like a lot of nonsensical techno-babble to me. Let me know when its up and running.

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NRT
Badgers

A self-limiting, high-temperature superconductor technology

Nice! I want one of those, and it will be ready (for testing) by 2010.

So they are going to rip out the existing grid and install a high temperature superconducting grid all by next year.

I think my technobabble detector has hit a severe overload.

Nick.

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Silver badge
Flame

The DHS actually doing something for once?

"Our engineers are working on a self-limiting, high-temperature superconductor technology which would stop and prevent power surges generated anywhere in the system from spreading to other substations."

The DHS has engineers? Working on fancy technology?? No doubt in an underground basis in Antarctica. And here I was thinking of them as time-serving paperpushers. Nice.

Ok, so what about doing correct design IN THE FIRST PLACE. Give this to the private sector, tell them to clean the sh*t up and throw out all the California "cancerigenic high-power-lines" NIMBYs.

Analysis of power grids goes back to Vannevar Bush for God's sake, there is nothing magic about it.

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So...

in theory a drunken trucker could take out the west coasts electricity with a well directed crash which takes a line down, overloads a substation and kaboom!

Y don't the russians just spite american drinks and then the whole of the USA will overload and canada will invade, become the new superpower and start a war with Europe. Then when both The US of Canada and the EU are dead, Russia moves in and bob's your socialist.

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Coat

At least I can stop worrying

I thought there were talking about turning loose a bunch of crazed squirrels on the electirc utility sub-stations. Got coat, going now whilst it's still light out.

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Thumb Up

@AC 15:26 GMT

Many a true word spoken in jest...

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Pirate

China

So China knows more about the western US electric grid than the US does? As a Merican, that sorta scares me. I hope they aren't also studying our milk supply or our toy-painting infrastructure...

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Alien

NIx Tree Trimming Kill Grid

That simple financial trick has already been proven to work.

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Anonymous Coward

Really "Old News"

It has been known for quite some time (back to the 80's at least) that about 14 "well placed" explosive charges would take out the ENTIRE US electrical grid. My brother worked on this specific project while at EPRI (Electric Power Research Institute). It was forwarded to some big government body (see closing scene of Indiana Jones movies).

"Nothing to see here, please move along."

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Boffin

@Sureo

"Our engineers are working on a self-limiting, high-temperature superconductor technology which would stop and prevent power surges generated anywhere in the system from spreading to other substations."

This is a superconducting fault current limiter. During normal operation the superconductor presents very little resistance; during fault conditions the high current (mega-amps) causes a magnetic field that causes the superconductor to stop superconducting, the resistance goes up and the fault current is quenched.

Fault limiting inductors using the high di/dt of a fault have been installed in electrical distribution networks for very many years. Along with proper circuit protection ( voltage transformers, current transformers, trip relays and circuit breakers), investment and people who know what they are doing (correct fault discrimination settings on your protection system), most networks can be made robust. However the real test is to trip the breaker and see whether the system works correctly. People are reluctant to do this. They are also reluctant to spend money when the lights are on, to make sure that they stay on.

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Dominoes

It doesn't have to be deliberate - look up 'Carrington Event' for solar flares that would emulate an EMP and knock out communications worldwide. Can happen anytime, and would make global warming look like the damp squib it is.

Is anyone prepared? Just the military, which is a worrying thought, IMHO.

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Silver badge

Sitting ducks

"Is anyone prepared? Just the military, which is a worrying thought, IMHO." .... By James Pickett Posted Thursday 17th September 2009 12:43 GMT

James,

An EMP event is something which you can prepare for but you are never prepared for it. And the military know that all too well.

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FAIL

Smart power meters and the flu

There was an El Reg article a few months back that the new "smart meters" on individual homes and businesses were easily hackable. Combine that with this...

Then, I was thinking, what percentage of grid utility and infrastructure workers can you take out (with the flu, for example) and still keep the grid up? (Also, for how long?) This includes the coal miners, coal train operators, power station crews, oil and gas field workers and pipeline crews, etc. I'm guessing that (within an order of magnitude, as a SWAG) if over half of your people are out (home in bed with 106F, 41C fevers, or dead) the grid becomes very fragile. If the grid goes down, pretty much everything else goes down too.

Happy trails!

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