The US Energy Grid presents one of the most attractive targets to cyberattackers. Not only is the power grid instrumental in the day-to-day functioning of society, but all critical sectors of the economy are dependent on electricity. Interfering with the power grid would have dangerous effects on the entire country.

How an Attack Could Happen

Although cyber attacks are a major security concern, they are extremely difficult to accomplish. Cyber attacks would demand exponential levels of resources, months of intensive preparation, and an exceptionally wide range of expertise. Hostile state adversaries present the most significant threat. Although less likely, attacks by terrorists or criminal organizations are also possible.

Just a few years ago, hackers successfully took out part of Kiev’s power grid and caused a blackout. This proves that cyber attacks on power grids, although unlikely, are indeed a viable security concern.

The US Power Grid

The US power grid is extremely complex and consists of 5.5 million miles of distribution line responsible for providing both homes and businesses with electricity. The power grid also features 3,300 interconnected utilities, 55,000 substations, and 200,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines.

The power grid’s elements include power generation, transmission, and distribution. Any of these parts can be targeted for a cyber attack.

Attack Scenario

The insurance underwriter Lloyd’s of London created a hypothetical cyber attack scenario on the Eastern Interconnection, one of the United State’s main power grids. The Eastern Interconnection provides electricity to half of the country. This hypothetical attack caused a major blackout. Had it been real, fifteen states and the country’s capital would have lost power, causing chaos. Ninety-three million people would have found themselves without power. They estimated that the blackout’s impact on the US economy would have reached $243 billion, but also had the potential to exceed $1 trillion.

The United States power grid is instrumental to the country’s economy and lifestyle of its residents. Attacks on the power grid have the potential to render vast numbers of businesses and people without electricity. The attack on Kiev’s power grid proved that such cyber attacks are possible, and the Lloyd’s of London scenario displayed just how detrimental an attack on the US power grid would be. These risks must be safeguarded against to ensure the continuing prosperity of the United States.