Power Grid Too Reliable for Own Good?

Hard to Win Support for Proper Safeguards Without a Catastrophe
The United States - and other advanced societies - shouldn't let the reliability of their electric grids lull them into being unprepared for possible massive power outages caused by cyberattacks, cybersecurity expert Harry Raduege says.

Raduege, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant general who once led the Defense Information Systems Agency and co-chaired the Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency, says the ramifications of such a cyberattack could look like the power outage in India last week that blacked out electricity to more than 600 million people, about half that nation's population.

"Our critical infrastructure in the United States just continues to operate on a very reliable basis," Raduege says in an interview with Information Security Media Group. "Everyday, we have the power that we need; the hospital care that we need. Our financial systems and services, our telecommunications are up and running. So, a lot of times it's hard to get the attention of the American people unless you have an almost catastrophic failure that affect many, many lives at the same time.

"And that's why the blackout in India has caught our attention in certain circles for those who are responsible for providing reliable services. The fact that we could extrapolate the fact that, perhaps, the power management was the problem with India power, that same kind of debilitating effect could be caused by power manipulation by some sort of terrorist activity or attackers of a nation or their critical infrastructure."

Blackout's Global Consequences

Raduege, who chairs the Deloitte Center for Cyber Innovation, says the India power outage wasn't just an isolated occurrence that affected India alone because of the global aspect of commerce in an age of instant communication and interdependence.

"Others that are conducting normal economic and financial transactions with India on a normal daily basis would be affected if their power grid was disrupted," he says. "And, in fact, the outages they experienced in India that meant we, in the United States, were cut off from India and the many outsourcing activities and services India provides for us. I think it's more far reaching than just the fact that India had 679 million of their own residents and population affected by this; it also had implications and impact on the rest of the world."

In the interview, Raduege also addresses the implications of the U.S. Senate's failure last week to enact significant cybersecurity legislation [see Cybersecurity Act Fails; What Next?]. Raduege offers as distinct perspective on the Senate vote; the findings of the Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency - a panel of IT and IT security thought leaders from the private sector, military and government, including members of Congress - served as the foundation for President Obama's cyberspace policy and cybersecurity legislation introduced in Congress over the past four years.

After serving in the military for 35 years, Raduege joined Deloitte to head the business services company's unit that focuses on developing cybersecurity solutions for clients. In the military, Raduege worked in the areas of technology, including telecommunications, space, information and network operations.

In his last military position, he led Department of Defense netcentric operations as DISA director, planning, engineering and implementation of interoperable communications and intelligence systems serving the needs of the president, defense secretary, Joint Chiefs of Staff, combatant commanders and the military services. In that role, he led efforts to restore communications to the Pentagon following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, upgrade presidential communications and expand the department's global information grid through a $1 billion transformational communications program.

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