Difficult isn’t the same as impossible, Suh-Lee told me. Depending on where an attack happened and how people responded, you could get the stuff of our nightmares. Lawrence repeatedly invoked the phrase “knock on wood” as he talked about the possibility of infiltrations of electric infrastructure turning into real-world blackouts. That’s why there’s a lot of effort going into research, monitoring and preparation for cyberattacks. Lawrence’s team, for instance, is gearing up for an event that’s held every other year and is sort of like war games for the electric grid. And the Department of Energy is planning a similar event, focused on figuring out what it takes to reboot after a hacker-caused blackout.
But that preparation doesn’t mean we’ll eventually solve this problem, either, Suh-Lee said. If the chances of a cinematic disaster are low, the chances of a theatrical hero on a white horse riding in to save the day are even lower. Making the grid stronger and more resilient also means making it more digital — the work that’s being done to improve the infrastructure has also created new opportunities for hackers to break in. And the risk of attack is here to stay. Security improvements are “never going to completely eliminate the risk,” she said. “The risk is out there and people will find a new way to attack.” We’ll be living with cyber threats to the grid for the rest of our lives.
Press around the North America electrical grid and security is often hyperbolic. Maggie Koerth-Baker typically writes in a measured way so I appreciate this article adding a little bit of reason into the diaspora.