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Power Security

$250K Reward Offered In California Power Grid Attack 111

An anonymous reader writes "The Associated Press reports that Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has put up a $250,000 reward for 'information leading to an arrest and conviction in a startling attack mounted nearly a year ago on telephone lines and the power grid in Silicon Valley.' Besides cutting power lines, the attackers also cut AT&T fiber-optic phone lines, thereby denying some people access to 911, and fired shots into a PB&E substation, knocking out 17 transformers in Silicon Valley and causing $15 million in damage. As of this post, the perpetrators are still unidentified and continue to elude the FBI. Meanwhile, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Thursday was brought before the Senate Energy Committee to explain why the FERC disseminated via insecure media a sensitive document describing where all the nation's power grids are particularly sensitive to a physical attack. FERC responded with assurances that databases are currently being scrubbed and procedures being implemented to safeguard critical data."
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$250K Reward Offered In California Power Grid Attack

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  • Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cold fjord ( 826450 ) on Friday April 11, 2014 @01:46PM (#46727347)

    . Meanwhile, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Thursday was brought before the Senate Energy Committee to explain why the FERC disseminated via insecure media a sensitive document describing where all the nation's power grids are particularly sensitive to a physical attack.

    Because nobody will take security seriously until something bad happens? And once that something bad happens there will be plenty of people screaming, "False flag!"

  • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Friday April 11, 2014 @02:47PM (#46728035)
    "More easily", sure. But if somebody is willing to cut cables and shoot guns at equipment, it is more reasonable to worry about catching them afterwards than preventing it. Making the entire grid literally bullet proof is a preposterous idea.

    I've been thinking about this a lot as I listen to Kevin Mitnick's autobio, Ghost in the Wires. He devotes his entire life to circumventing various defenses, then laughs at everybody for being 'so easily' fooled. His entire view is basically juvenile - that everything (such as the phone system) just naturally exists and ought to be perfect, so it's amazing if he can prove otherwise. When in fact nobody ever said it was. All the stuff that exists and usually works is just the product of mostly ordinary people doing their 9-5 jobs and trying to keep the wheels turning until their shift ends so they can go home and do something else.

  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Friday April 11, 2014 @03:01PM (#46728175)

    ...wouldn't we have seen it by now?

    Despite the alphabet soup of government agencies, surveillance and Federal laws, America is a pretty easy place to move around and generally maintain a low profile. And many "critical infrastructure" sites really aren't well defended/guarded -- take your pick, a handful of people with nominal skill and training could cause all manner of chaos.

    If the risk of attack was really that great, why haven't we seen it by now?

    I always hesitate to ask this question and post too many specific examples for fear of attracting the wrong kind of attention, but let's just take oil refining as an example. The last time they closed a refinery down for maintenance two states away, the price of gas here shot up quite a bit -- we all hear the stories about inadequate refinery capacity. So what happens if 3 or 4 refineries go offline at the same time in close geographic proximity? Are we talking just a buck a gallon price hike, or are we talking shortages worse than the infamous 1970s gas lines along with all the attendant economic disruption?

    I think if there were people intent on doing real damage, we would have seen it by now. It's a trivial armchair exercise to think of things that make you go "whoa!" And if you think of actual, organized sabotage involving direct state sponsorship and not just theocratic nutjobs the scenarios get even worse because you're now talking training that goes beyond emptying AK-47s in the desert.

  • by Rich0 ( 548339 ) on Friday April 11, 2014 @03:25PM (#46728371) Homepage

    The thing I get is why not just have the government run security for them in the first place?

    That's what I don't get about breeder reactors. People argue that terrorists will get their hands on weapons-grade materials. So instead we plan to bury tons of waste underground if we ever find a place we can store it, at a cost of billions of dollars.

    It would make a lot more sense to just stick the breeder reactors in the middle of army bases. Security isn't THAT hard of a problem since we already guard actual functional nuclear warheads. Surely if the terrorists can't get their hands on those, we can protect some fuel located in the middle of a reactor core under boiling water which is only n% weapons-grade material.

  • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cusco ( 717999 ) <> on Friday April 11, 2014 @04:26PM (#46729009)

    The morons of the Survivalist or Militia movements could take down the entire US electrical grid tomorrow were they able to stop fighting amongst themselves long enough. A score of more-or-less simultaneous strikes like this spread at random across the country would crash the grid, hard. You don't need inside information, deep understanding of the power distribution system, electrical engineering training, financing, or high tech weaponry, nothing more than a watch, a deer rifle and a vehicle to get you there. Electrical engineers have been complaining about this for well over two decades, but since making the grid more resilient will cost money the suits don't want to listen. If Al Qaeda were really what the gov't has tried to convince us they were you'd be without power several days a week.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.