When the “Big One” Hits – Are We Prepared?

Similar to being prepared for an earthquake, we must be prepared for when cyber criminals finally take a shot (and succeed) at taking down our entire energy and utility infrastructure. A few years ago, an attack on our grid sounded like something out of a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel, but now…it’s a grim, realistic possibility.

In the Pacific Northwest, where I live, there’s been a lot of discussion lately about “the Big One”: the predicted mega earthquake that could devastate the region. Ever since Kathryn Schulz’s eye-opening article in The New Yorker, people in my area have been discussing how to prepare. In the event of such a quake here, FEMA expects to have to provide shelter for one million people, and food and water for up to two and a half million, probably for months. But just as people here are grappling with the threat of a massive natural disaster, a new book by journalist Ted Koppel exposes an even larger threat that could affect our whole nation, endangering hundreds of millions of lives and devastating our economy. The new book Lights Out explores the likelihood and repercussions of a cyber-attack on the U.S. energy grid and our readiness to deal with such an attack. It paints a sobering picture, one that we should all be concerned about, and it also offers a few lessons about day-to-day business preparedness.

Not If, But When

Koppel interviewed dozens of experts, from energy company executives to cyber security experts, FEMA administrators, and top officials at the National Security Administration (NSA) and Homeland Security, and he found widely differing opinions on the probability and scope of an attack on U.S energy infrastructure. As with the Internet, the beauty of our energy grid is that it can reroute and be resilient. The risk of all that interconnectedness is that malware could also spread quickly through the system, putting much of it at risk.

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