The Government’s Plan to Protect You from Cyber Attacks… Doesn’t Exist

In 2009, in a remote Russian Republic, a huge explosion destroyed one of the turbines in a massive dam. The dam in question is one of the ten largest hydroelectric dams in the world.

It’s three times bigger than the Hoover dam, just to give you an idea.

The explosion killed 75 people. And there was some real worry that the structural integrity of the dam might fail. If that had happened, thousands more would have drowned in a wall of water.

The disaster was thought to be the result of a cyberattack.

Even more worrying, a short time after this 2009 explosion, the U.S. Department of the Interior was hacked. The information stolen? An index of the vulnerabilities of thousands of dams in the U.S.

Most of the time, when you think about a cyberattack, you probably think about hacked emails and stolen social security numbers. But cyberattacks can be used to cause physical damage, like explosions.

That Russian dam explosion… it was triggered by a bit of computer code that came from hundreds of miles away. After an investigation, the Russians determined it was an accident. Not an attack. But that accidental computer command sent the dam’s turbines into overdrive and one of the turbines — a hulking 1,100 metric tons of metal — tore out of its housing leaving a devastating path of destruction in its wake.

So why should you be worried about some explosion in Russia that happened over 7 years ago?

Well, imagine if that explosion had happened this last summer. The Russians have been accused of hacking into the DNC’s emails. The Obama administration has promised a retaliation.

How long do you think it would have taken the Russians to assume the explosion was our doing? And how would they respond? Such a series of events could easily trigger an active war, one with bombs and missiles, between the U.S. and Russia.

You can also bet that such a war would involve cyberattacks. And that means we’re in new territory.

Nothing we take for granted — the Internet, the financial sector, the water supply, trains, the power grid, emergency response services — none of it is safe against cyberattacks. And it doesn’t matter if those attacks are coming from Russia, from Iran, or from some activist organization. If they bring down our power grid, it won’t make any difference to you who’s responsible.

Now you may be thinking, “Doesn’t the government have a plan for these kinds of attacks?”

The answer is No. They don’t. Richard Clarke, the cyber czar under the most recent president Bush summed it up like this: “I think the public believes that the U.S. government – Cyber Command, NSA, FBI, Homeland Security – has the capability to defend the electric power grid, pipelines, trains, banks that could be attacked by other nations through cyber… the truth is the government doesn’t have the capability, doesn’t have the legal authority and doesn’t have a plan to do it.”

The Threat that Keeps Government Agents Up at Night

The threat to our power grid, and to other critical infrastructures, is ongoing.

But let’s focus on the power grid. Because it affects everything. If the power grid goes down, it will bring down most other critical systems with it.

This is something that the U.S. government is quietly very worried about. There have been studies and reports and intensive investigations regarding the impact of a widespread power grid failure.

One of these investigators is Dr. Peter Vincent Pry. Pry has headed up the Task Force on National and Homeland Security. He also served on the House Armed Services Committee. In reports, he has stated that there are several weaknesses in our power grid, all which could be exploited. In a Congressional Hearing, Pry stated, “Threats to the electric power grid are posed by cyberattack, sabotage, electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from non-nuclear radiofrequency weapons, natural EMP from a geomagnetic super-storm, and nuclear EMP attack from the high-altitude detonation of a nuclear weapon.”

To make matters worse, our grid is not exactly in the best shape. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) says we all have good cause to be worried. The ASCE gives the grid a D+ grade. What does that mean? In the words of the ASCE, the grid is in “poor to fair condition and mostly below standard, with many elements approaching the end of their service life.”

When Janet Napolitano stepped down as Director of Homeland Security in August 2013, she didn’t mince words. In her parting speech, she warned that a major breakdown of the power grid was all but inevitable. Given the ailing state of the grid, a coordinated cyberattack or even a natural disaster could topple the system entirely.

Add to that the fact that cyberattacks against energy companies and the electric grid are surging. More than half of personnel at energy utilities reported in a survey that they had experienced sophisticated cyberattacks in the past year and believe real, physical harm to the grid through these kinds of attacks is imminent…

The threat is very real. It is very serious. And it’s imperative that you prepare. The government is lagging on this issue. It’s up to citizens like you to take up the slack. Doing so may be the only way you and your family survive if the unthinkable does happen.

A power grid collapse would affect you on every level. Our economy — down to basic financial transactions — is reliant on power. Gas pumps need power. Water treatment facilities need power. Manufacturing … power. Transportation … power.

Major regional power outages often take a week or more to restore. A bigger failure could trigger a cascade effect, bringing down more and more of the grid. That kind of collapse would take months to fix.

Our entire economy would change… and the casualties would be high.

The Mindset You Need to Face Down the Unthinkable

But within weeks, if not days, industrious individuals would begin finding ways to do business within the new system. Everything would be different… the way you cook your food, the way you clean your clothes, the way you get supplies, the way you travel. It will be much harder than our current way of life, but life — and the economy — will carry on.

A few steps you can take now to begin preparing:

  • Start stocking up on non-perishable food items. Aim to store three days’ worth of food for everyone in your household. Then expand that to two weeks. And then to a full month.
  • Buy several cases of bottled water. They’re cheap, easily portable, and will give you a ready source of drinking water in an emergency. (The individual bottles are also handy for bartering.)
  • Put aside a month’s worth of expenses in cash that you keep in a safe place in your home.

If you want to be as prepared as possible, consider investing in a back-up power system. Having a way to run a freezer, to charge your cell phone, and to keep the lights on when you need them will put you in a much more secure situation in the event of a long-term power collapse.

The government is aware of this threat, but they haven’t yet found a way to effectively address it, so they’re keeping mostly mum about it. Knowing what you know now, you can see why it so important to take at least basic steps to protect you and your family in the event the unthinkable — what officials believe is inevitable — happens.