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Power Grid Information Relating to Blackouts.
Dartmouth College, Institute for Security Technology Studies | Aug 14th, 2003 | Gabrielle Reilly and Institute for Security Technology Studies

Posted on 08/14/2003 5:51:30 PM PDT by Gabrielle Reilly

My global recommendations are currently being reviewed by Dartmouth College in a project "taking a cross section of US political commentators on current events and evaluating their respective recommendations."

I asked one of the Professor's via email this question last week:

"I was wondering if you wouldn't mind briefly answering a question I have on a potential technology vulnerability related to Electronic System Control and Data Acquisition systems for me? Apparently the power is broken into six grids across the US and a vulnerability exists with the black e-SCADA boxes. What are your thoughts on that?"

His response:

"I must say you are well-informed on cybersecurity matters. As far as SCADA systems are concerned: A lot of the material is restricted (for the same reason that Sean German's PhD thesis at George Wash U is restricted) because of the ease with which malicious people (not necessarily terrorists) can exploit these systems for nefarious purposes. There are hundreds of vulnerabilities concerning SCADA systems, not just one - this is as much a design problem (different era - no one cared about security then) as it is the disconcerting rush with which we, as a society, choose to make our society's neuralgic points accessible to the wider public (China has explicit war manuals stating that our dependence on functioning electronic infrastructure will be our downfall in a war). The power grid is probably the lynchpin - because if that goes down, we do not really have a clear idea how to get it back up and running again (I am not a power engineer, this is what I have been told in private)

There have been incidents regarding dams, sewage treatment plants - in 2000, in Brisbane Australia, Vitek Boden, a disgruntled former employee of the company that had installed the computerized water system for Maroochy Shire Council, hacked into the sewage control computers and used radio transmissions to alter pump station operations. Raw sewage overflows were created on at least two occasions - at the Coolum Hyatt Regency Resort and at the nearby township of Pacific Paradise, where one million litres of raw sewage ended up in a stormwater drain.

The big scare is, as you have astutely pointed out, an attack against the power grid structure in the US. To my knowledge, this has never been carried out successfully (meaning grid collapse) to date. I include a link to a high level report we wrote about this in December 2002

( (Note this is a PDF).

Concerning the e-bomb: The ex Soviet Union was keenly aware of this fact, which is why when a defector arrived in the West in the mid 80s with a then top-of-the-line Mig-29, to their utter surprise, US engineers found that its flight guidance systems did not rely on IC (integrated circuits) but on vacuum tubes (like in old radios) - which would not be fried by an EMP during a nuclear explosion. Again, our electronic systems are much more delicate than widely acknowledged, so this type of attack will work. However, I think our saving grace is this: Baring an EMP effect from a nuclear detonation (in which case we are probably doomed anyway), 'conventional' e-bombs have to targeted to be effective - and not many nations/groups possess the means of accurate delivery."

KEYWORDS: blackout; nutcase; powergrid; scada
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To: Gabrielle Reilly
I heard a woman on the radio today (speaking for some utility) say that there is software in the system designed to keep it from overloading and from cascading. They were puzzled as to why the software didn't work. My guess is that it was crippled in some way. Otherwise, I'd like to hear another reasonable explanation.
21 posted on 08/15/2003 3:54:31 AM PDT by bets
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To: All
Latest update.
22 posted on 08/15/2003 3:54:45 AM PDT by Gabrielle Reilly
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To: Gabrielle Reilly
I'd say weather instead of EMP.
23 posted on 08/15/2003 4:36:51 AM PDT by Conspiracy Guy (They're "Smoke Gnatzies" Little minds buzzing into your business. Swat em.)
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To: Flurry
Yeah it is interesting. Maybe unrelated but worth contemplating.

Their is a theory that the terrorist's plan on WMD's
being Weapons of Mass Disruption so they nip away at our economy. Without a strong economy of course we do not have a strong military might in years to come.
24 posted on 08/15/2003 4:49:59 AM PDT by Gabrielle Reilly
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To: Gabrielle Reilly
I think it's the Klan.
25 posted on 08/15/2003 5:12:05 AM PDT by Conspiracy Guy (They're "Smoke Gnatzies" Little minds buzzing into your business. Swat em.)
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To: Gabrielle Reilly
It might or might not be terrorism--but since they still don't know what caused this, how can the officials be so sure it's not terrorism? Stating so confidently that it's not terrorism even before they know why and how it happened only gives fuel to conspiracy theories at best--and at worst (i.e., if it was terrorism), it gives the terrorists a free pass. (If everyone from the president on down says it wasn't terrorism, how can we hope to prosecute them in court even if we find them?)
26 posted on 08/15/2003 6:14:41 AM PDT by MizSterious (Support whirled peas!)
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To: Gabrielle Reilly
G.R., I don't know how many planes were involved, but I do know there were a number of suspicious incidents reported, like the "swarthy" men who left a plane in St. Louis when all the flights were grounded, hopped a train to San Antonio (or was it Austin?), where they were apprehended carrying box cutters. There were other incidents as well. All of this information just sort of faded away.
27 posted on 08/15/2003 6:19:01 AM PDT by MizSterious (Support whirled peas!)
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To: Gabrielle Reilly
Richard Clarke made some sensible comments on Good Morning America on ABC News (American Broadcasting Company) this morning. He said (paraphrased - it isn't transcripted yet) it might not have been caused by terrorists or hackers but to say right now that it absolutely couldn't have been terrorists was premature, that there was no way to know that at this point and one should keep an open mind.

He said that a Sandia team had proven many times that the system could be hacked and that infosecurity standards (and voluntary ones, at that) had only just been adopted Wednesday.

Looks like another hot day in the East. It might be hard to bring power back up quickly as all those air conditioners come back on.

I wonder how electricity deregulation helps or hurts this. Normally deregulation helps rationalize excesses in capacity into lower costs. But maybe we want some excess capacity.

28 posted on 08/15/2003 6:39:12 AM PDT by pttttt
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To: pttttt
29 posted on 08/15/2003 8:01:36 AM PDT by Afronaut
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To: pttttt; MizSterious; randita; chance33_98; lelio; MEG33; patton; wirestripper; Valin; Djarum; ...
Sorry I haven't had a chance to respond, hectic day. Since vulnerability is no secret now, here is the latest update from the Professor at Dartmouth...

We saw a spike in routing instability at 4:11 PM, the exact moment of the power failure. Our global instability index (GII) peaked around 80 (normal values are between 5 and 50, high-water mark was 240 during the slammer worm)

More significantly, we saw global network reachability drop to about 97.3%, indicating that more than 2.5% of the the Internet was (and continues to be) unreachable. As expected, most of the unreachable networks are in the NY area.

As far as the causes are concerned, nobody knows anything or is willing to say anything at this point. But to me that is not the primary problem. Whether it was terrorism or a lightning strike or a Canadian geese flock decided to commit seppuku on a transformer, the problem as I see it is this:

We are dependent, highly dependent, on a very complex infrastructure of our making (water, electricity, banking, our modern cities) that exhibit hundreds of neuralgic points, making these system non failsafe, non recoverable. Nature would have never have a system evolve like that - would have been too unstable to survive for long. Ours however were consciously designed with other criteria than survivability in mind. Whether it is accidents or planned attacks - as far as I am concerned, terrorism just
exposed what was always a shameful secret of modern society: Our high tech way of life is setting up many accidents waiting to happen, without taking appropriate (in my opinion) precautions. We have been exceedingly lucky in terms of nuclear power, for instance (a half dozen near misses since 1945 in the US alone, the Ukrainians and Byelorussians were not so lucky - two major
accidents (1986, 1958)), but statistically speaking, our luck cannot run forever (especially not with the grid, since our power system is old and decrepit and no major investments have been made to upgrade them - incredible but true). We are due, terror or not, for major accidents/events like these.
30 posted on 08/15/2003 10:35:33 AM PDT by Gabrielle Reilly
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To: Gabrielle Reilly
Oh intellectual credit of above post goes to Professor Daniel Bilar.
31 posted on 08/15/2003 2:36:54 PM PDT by Gabrielle Reilly
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To: Gabrielle Reilly
I agree. we are an accident waiting for a place to happen. It was terrible to see all those people out in the street. what if that was the plan by terrorists. to get everyone out there and then try to harm them. I would have prefered they stayed put or at least not congregate so many. (together) plus why can't we get up and running./ we are so dependent on the modern tec. that everyplace vertually shut down. In this modern world we better figure out a better system than we have. we have the power and brains to figure it out. go for it
32 posted on 08/15/2003 6:13:52 PM PDT by Walnut
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To: Gabrielle Reilly
You probably already have this resource, but just in case:
33 posted on 08/15/2003 7:32:34 PM PDT by optimistically_conservative (Can't prove a negative? You're not stupid. Prove it!)
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To: Gabrielle Reilly; thackney
Interesting Ping
34 posted on 08/18/2003 11:19:56 AM PDT by Eaker (This is OUR country; let's take it back!!!!!)
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To: Gabrielle Reilly; Eaker
Which "exact moment" of the power failure are you looking at? The sequence of events spread out over more than an hour.

The following information represents a partial sequence of events based upon Reliability Coordinator information available to NERC. It is not clear if these events caused the event or were a consequence of other events. NERC is establishing teams to study the event and will coordinate with FERC, DOE, the industry and others.

Approximate times – Eastern Standard Time – MISO report only
14:06 Chamberlain – Harding 345 kV line tripped – cause not reported
14:32 Hanna – Juniper 345 kV line sagged and tripped
14:41 Star – S. Canton 345 kV line tripped
14:46 Tidd – Canton Ctrl 345 kV line tripped
15:06 Sammis – Star 345 kV line tripped and reclosed
(the preceding lines are located in the vicinity of Cleveland, Ohio)
15:08 Power swings noted in Canada and Eastern United States
15:10 Campbell # 3 tripped ??
15:10 Hampton – Thetford 345 kV line tripped
15:10 Oneida – Majestic 345 kV line tripped
15:11 Avon Unit 9 tripped
15:11 Beaver – Davis Besse
15:11 Midway – Lemoyne – Foster 138(?) kV line tripped
15:11 Perry Unit 1 tripped
15:15 Sammis – Star 345 kV line tripped and reclosed
15:17 Fermi Nuclear tripped
15:17–15:21 Numerous lines in Michigan tripped

The northeastern United States and Canada did not report significant outages prior to 15:11 EST.
NERC is a not-for-profit company formed as a result of the Northeast blackout in 1965 to promote the reliability of the bulk electric systems that serve North America. NERC works with all segments of the electric industry as well as customers to “keep the lights on” by developing and encouraging compliance with rules for the reliable operation of the electric grid. NERC membership comprises ten Regional Reliability Councils that account for virtually all the electricity supplied in the United States, Canada, and a portion of Baja California Norte, Mexico. For more information about NERC go to

Eaker, thanks for the pint
35 posted on 08/18/2003 11:43:19 AM PDT by thackney (Life is Fragile, Handle with Prayer)
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To: thackney; Eaker

Did you see this post? Who knows if it is related but certainly worth noting.
36 posted on 08/18/2003 12:24:37 PM PDT by Gabrielle Reilly
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To: thackney
Eaker, thanks for the pint

You are welcome........I guess!!

What the heck is a "pint"????


37 posted on 08/18/2003 12:27:26 PM PDT by Eaker (This is OUR country; let's take it back!!!!!)
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To: Eaker
What the heck is a "pint"????

Half a quart. In England, it is slang for a beer. Here in the states, it's a misspelled ping :-P

38 posted on 08/18/2003 12:31:56 PM PDT by thackney (Life is Fragile, Handle with Prayer)
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To: Gabrielle Reilly
Periodic blackouts are common here - and rolling blackouts are regularly implemented to conserve power

Interesting, but they acknowledge they've had a problem for quite a while.

39 posted on 08/18/2003 12:37:42 PM PDT by thackney (Life is Fragile, Handle with Prayer)
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To: Gabrielle Reilly; Eaker; Lloyd227
For those wishing for more information about the planning of the reliability of our electric power grids.

Reliability Assessment 2002–2011
The Reliability of Bulk Electric Systems in North America
Prepared by: North American Electric Reliability Council
October 2002

from the FORWARD
Since 1968, NERC has relied on voluntary efforts and “peer pressure” to ensure compliance with its standards. This voluntary arrangement is no longer adequate. The users and operators of the electric systems who used to cooperate voluntarily on reliability matters are now competitors without the same incentives to cooperate with each other or comply with voluntary reliability standards. Little or no effective recourse exists today under the current voluntary model to correct such behavior — not a single bulk electric system reliability standard can be enforced effectively today by NERC or the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Even though transmission systems are expected to operate reliably, some areas of the grid are not adequate to transmit the full output of all new generating units to their desired markets. Although some transmission constraints are recurring and well known, new constraints are appearing as electricity flow patterns change.

From the Regional Highlights:
Current projections indicate that New York State will not meet its 18% installed reserve margin requirement beyond 2004. However, currently about 4,200 MW of new capacity have approved applications under the New York State Article X process that have not been included in the projected reserve margins.

From the Transmission Adequacy and Security Assessment:
The transmission systems are being subjected to flows in magnitudes and directions that were not contemplated when they were designed and for which there is minimal operating experience. New flow patterns result in an increasing number of facilities being identified as limits to transfers, and transmission loading relief (TLR) procedures were required in areas not previously subject to overloads to maintain the transmission facilities within operating limits.
40 posted on 08/18/2003 2:22:57 PM PDT by thackney (Life is Fragile, Handle with Prayer)
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