Cyber security drill tests massive attack on N. American power grid

( A recent cyber security test simulated a widespread enemy hack attack against the entire North American electric power grid in mid-November to gauge the ability of network operators to fend off coordinated assaults on various grid installations by rogue drones and heavily armed terrorist groups, E & E Publishing reported.

The scenario was meant to pinpoint both glaring and unforeseen vulnerabilities that could leave tens of millions of Americans without power for long periods of time and create a national emergency.

“It breaks the system pretty severely,” Gerry Cauley, president and chief executive of the North American Electric Reliability Corp., which designed and ran the GridEx III exercise, told E & E.

About 350 utilities, government agencies and other groups, as well as an estimated 10,000 participants, took part in the massive exercise, which was not divulged to the public. Participants in the “war game” scenarios used secure Internet channels to conduct the test.

As E & E further reported:

A second exercise required industry chief executives and federal agency leaders to arrange transfers of massive spare grid transformers around the country to replace units destroyed in the “attacks.”

In briefing reporters, Cauley did not discuss any specific problems requiring immediate responses. He also said that a detailed report containing conclusions from the exercise would be made available to the public in January.

Officials noted generally, however, that GridExIII revealed that a worst-case scenario would leave parts or all of some cities temporarily uninhabitable, even though there are ongoing improvements in new grid defenses.

Cauley said that an attack of such magnitude would necessarily involved coordinated physical and cyber attacks on a scale that would be “very rare and very difficult” to pull off.

“There were very serious events occurring in a simulated fashion on the grid, including attacks; cyberattacks on corporate computers and systems; attacks on communications systems; infiltration of control systems, relays and controls in substations and power plants; as well as physical attacks in terms of explosive and shooting,” Cauley said.

Earlier, as reported by, cyber security expert John McAfee estimated that widespread, long-term destruction of the U.S. power grid could lead to the deaths of nine in 10 Americans.

And Natural News reported, McAfee’s estimate was backed up by other experts who testified before lawmakers on Capitol Hill in May 2014 that a major cyber attack on the power grid could adversely affect 90 percent of the population.

“Some would say it’s low probability, but the damage that could be caused in the event of an EMP attack, both by the sun, a solar event, or a man-made attack, would be catastrophic,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas. “We talk a lot about a nuclear bomb in Manhattan, and cybersecurity threat to the power grid in the Northeast, and all of these things would actually probably pale in comparison to the devastation that an EMP attack could perpetrate on Americans.”

As for physical attacks on power stations, there is precedent for that. WorldNetDaily reported that snipers shot up a southern California power station near San Jose in 2013, in what some believe was a dry run for larger terror physical attacks against the U.S. power grid.

While officials say that such attacks are rare and difficult to carry out, studies indicate that such attacks on a wide scale would create havoc in American society.

“A controversial study in 2013 by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff found that a successful physical attack on relatively small number of strategically located high-voltage transformer substations could cause widespread outages,” E & E reported. “FERC subsequently added mandatory physical defense preparations to existing cybersecurity requirements for grid operators.”

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