War games: 350 utilities join feds in simulation of large-scale grid attack
- The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) last week ran a simulated attack on the United States' utility grid in partnership with industry and government to determine how to improve responses in the event of a real attack.
- While the test did not unveil any new or immediate vulnerabilities, EnergyWire reports that in a worst-case scenario some cities could be left uninhabitable.
- The test involved about 10,000 participants and 350 utilities, and simulated attacks on corporate and control systems, communication failures and physical attacks including bombings and shootings.
For all the investment being put into the utility grid, hardening transmission and modernizing utility systems, the United States remains vulnerable to a coordinated, widespread attack. The probability for such widespread attacks to be successful simultaneously is small, but last week NERC stress-tested utility systems by simulating a worst-case situation.
“The likelihood of all these scenario attacks occurring at the same time in reality is very low,” Gerry Cauley, CEO at NERC, said in a statement. “But GridEx takes the grid beyond its normal operating thresholds to allow industry the opportunity to deal with a worst-case situation during the exercise.”
The simulation, called “GridEx III,” was designed to enhance coordination of security resources and practices within the industry, as well as communication with government partners and stakeholders in Canada and Mexico. NERC provided participants with scenario information that detailed the exercise conditions throughout the test. Participants, acting in their normal workplaces, then responded with both their organization’s internal response measures and external information-sharing activities.
“Security and resilience of the North American bulk power system are vital to our national security and our economy. GridEx is a great example of industry; federal, state and provincial governments; and other stakeholders working together toward a common goal: protecting the grid,” Cauley said.
NERC did not release any specific findings following the test, but said a report on the test and resulting recommendations would be completed early next year. This was the third GridEx test NERC has run; the not-for-profit regulatory authority managed similar tests in 2011 and 2013.
Though the terrorist attacks in Paris were not specifically modeled into NERC's test, Southern Co. CEO Tom Fanning told EnergyWire that the industry had been coordinating with the government since they occurred.
"People should understand that the government is on top of these issues in a very serious, detailed manner," Fanning said.
- EnergyWire Massive grid attack exercise tests response
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