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Hearing Shows How 'Military-Style' Raid On Calif. Power Station Spooks U.S. 396

Posted by timothy
from the what-was-bruce-schneier-doing-that-evening dept.
Lasrick writes "Interesting piece about April's physical attack on a power station near San Jose, California, that now looks like a dress rehearsal for future attacks: Quote: 'When U.S. officials warn about "attacks" on electric power facilities these days, the first thing that comes to mind is probably a computer hacker trying to shut the lights off in a city with malware. But a more traditional attack on a power station in California has U.S. officials puzzled and worried about the physical security of the the electrical grid--from attackers who come in with guns blazing.'"
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Hearing Shows How 'Military-Style' Raid On Calif. Power Station Spooks U.S.

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  • by istartedi (132515) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @11:11PM (#45809225) Journal

    First, unless I got the wrong link it's no surprise the video didn't help further the investigation. All you see on it are some flashes of light that are sparks and/or muzzle flashes, and maybe some shadowy figures. Oh wait, I just need to zoom in and keep hitting "enhance" and I'll get their faces.

    Second, at the end of TFA they compare the cost of armoring transformers at one station with the entire cyber-security budget. How about an apples-to-apples comparison, like, you know... one involving the cost of armoring transformers at all the stations?

  • Re:No comments? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @11:22PM (#45809265) Homepage Journal

    It's just that thin veneer of civilization. A determined force can cripple the infrastructure, up close and personal, in pretty short order. You simply cannot secure all the infrastructure in this country. There are people who do little more than train themselves on methods to destroy stuff, and to kill people. Most nations maintain armies of men and women dedicated to that purpose. It shouldn't be surprising that not all people with a destructive bent are in the military.

    It is noteworthy that only two men were involved here. A squad, or a platoon, or a company of men with a mission could really wreak havoc. At least these guys weren't intent on gaining physical access to a generating plant, where they may have killed any number of people.

  • This? Again? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jd (1658) <.imipak. .at.> on Saturday December 28, 2013 @11:38PM (#45809335) Homepage Journal

    We've known the US has crappy infrastructure since, well, as close to forever as matters in America.

    Attacks on a power station or substation would be immaterial if the grid was a grid, redundancy was built into the system, and getting things done was a higher priority than ego strokes and profit margins. (Yeah, heresy, I know.)

    The moment you deliberately create single points of failure is the moment you hand out invites to nutcases, lunatics, wannabe cowboys and the rest of the US security infrastructure*. The moment you make such violence nothing more than a public nuisance, something not even worth a writeup in the local paper, is the moment it stops being interesting for the fringe groups to do.

    *Yes, the local crackhead with the M16 and armoured personnel carrier is the "militia" the Constitution speaketh of. They are part of the national defence system. Due to two major wars inflicting a massive drain on reserves and an exceptional loss of forces due to PTSD and injuries, said crackheads form an increasingly large part of the regular forces, police and intelligence services. Frankly, I'd be far more concerned about a coup from within than a bunch of moonshine-laden rednecks who have watched too many Dukes of Hazard episodes.

    Of course, given the NSA can dictate terms to the President, Congress and Federal judges, the coup might have already happened. Would you notice if it had? Would you care?

  • Re:This? Again? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by VortexCortex (1117377) <`VortexCortex' ` ...'> on Saturday December 28, 2013 @11:49PM (#45809385) Homepage

    the coup might have already happened. Would you notice if it had? Would you care?

    Yes, and yes. []
    Whether I would have the power to do anything about it is an altogether different matter.
    Rallying support would require some huge screw-up, for instance: If someone leaked the details about what Room 641A is for. []

  • That's impossible! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by blindseer (891256) <blindseer AT earthlink DOT net> on Sunday December 29, 2013 @12:45AM (#45809583)

    The intruder(s) then fired more than 100 rounds from what two officials described as a high-powered rifle at several transformers in the facility.

    That's not possible. Someone must be lying. I know this because California banned all those evil high powered rifles.

    I once saw an offer to tour a nuclear power plant. I thought that would be fun, I never saw the inside of a nuclear power plant before. I imagined it would be much like the coal fired plants I toured, I doubted I'd get near anything even remotely radioactive, but I still thought it would be quite interesting and educational. I then read the fine print on the tour invite. To go on the tour I'd have to submit to a background check, I believe that included getting fingerprinted. I lost all interest.

    I didn't think I'd have any problems passing a background check, I've done them before for things like getting in the military and getting government work. I just didn't like the idea of having to take my time going through that again for something as mundane as a tour of a power plant.

    While on vacation one summer I happened across a sign for a hydroelectric power plant. I recall it was called Raccoon Lake but a quick Google search tells me that is in the middle of Indiana and I'm pretty sure the dam I was at was in Tennessee. Anyway, I had time so I took a detour to see if I could take a tour or something. I got there and found the visitors center. I had a look around, they had a video playing on continuous loop showing the history of the area and how the dam worked. The video ended with a message to ask for a tour. I then asked to get a tour. I was told tours were no longer offered "for security reasons".

    I recall seeing a Youtube video recently about nuclear power where some nuclear power plant operator hated the security policies that banned tours. He wanted to show people how safe these power plants are. I understand where he's coming from, if nuclear power is so safe and secure then why can't we see that for ourselves? I can just imagine what people are thinking, do they have something to hide that they can't let me in?

    While they have these security policies in place for the power plants the wires leaving them are totally insecure. I remember driving down the interstate and seeing these HUGE power lines going overhead. It was not long after getting denied a tour of the hydro plant "for security reasons" that I saw those power lines so the first thought through my head was just how easy it would be to take out that power line. The foundations for the towers that ran overhead were just out in the middle of someone's corn field. There was a fence around the field but it was just something to keep cattle from wandering in or out, not anything that any able bodied adult couldn't climb over or through.

    The people that secure the power in this country have some seriously skewed priorities. We can't have people tour a hydroelectric plant "for security reasons" but some one can cut the communications to a power plant, shoot up some transformers, and no one knows who did it.

  • by holophrastic (221104) on Sunday December 29, 2013 @01:00AM (#45809621)

    It's always been the case that a more advanced foe can be defeated by a much simpler foe through indirect attacks on infrastructure, acruing nothing more than a huge expense for the advanced foe. This is no different.

    You can't possibly defend something like the power grids we have today. It's just not possible. They are large, they are disparate, they are expensive, they are sensitive. What's more, they are each vital and completely non-redundant. And they are also literally everywhere. You can take out a curb-side box in seconds with a pickup truck, and kill power to a neighbourhood for a day.

    No one's going to build the redundancy to withstand any destruction -- it's simply far too expensive.

    But that's true of all centralized systems based on distribution -- which includes gasolene, by the way. That's actually the advantage of a centralized system. No kidding it doesn't stand up to warfare.

    So, start supporting neighbourhood nuclear mini-reactors -- like your neighbourhood water towers -- or a bus-load of solar panels per house. Anything less won't be redundant, and hence will be easily attacked.

"Text processing has made it possible to right-justify any idea, even one which cannot be justified on any other grounds." -- J. Finnegan, USC.