The American electrical power grid is highly vulnerable to a devastating cyberattack and the United States government has no plan for dealing with such a catastrophe, famed TV newsman Ted Koppel says.
Koppel thinks the danger of such an attack is so great that he has written a book about it calledLights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath.
Koppel is best known for serving as anchor of the ABC program Nightline from 1980 to 2005.
“What we have never had is a cyberattack that amounts to a weapon of mass destruction,” Koppel toldPBS’s News Hour. “And my point is that, if someone succeeds in taking down one of our power grids — and the Russians and the Chinese can do it and maybe the Iranians and the North Koreans — it would be devastating.”
Experts interviewed by Koppel believe it is not a matter of “if,” but “when.” The grid would not be down days but weeks or months, Koppel says.
Koppel started researching cyberattacks and the power grid in 2013 after President Obama mentioned such a scenario in a State of the Union Address. After intensive research that involved discussions with four former Secretaries of Homeland Security and four former Secretaries of Defense, Koppel concluded that such an attack is likely and the US government is completely unprepared for such a cataclysm.
Some of Koppel’s disturbing revelations include:
Many of our nation’s leaders believe that such an attack is inevitable.
“When I spoke to Janet Napolitano just after she left as secretary of Homeland Security — and she had been on the job for five years — I said to her, what do you think the chances are of a cyber-attack on the power grid? She said very, very high, 80 to 90 percent,” Koppel told PBS.
Koppel said that the current secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, admitted to him that there is no federal strategy for dealing with a cyberattack on the grid.
Such an attack could lead to mass starvation.
Koppel says that all Americans should follow the lead of the Mormons and prepare for the worst.
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“And so the one thing that the Mormons do that I would recommend to Americans in general to do is to have a three to six months’ supply of food and water,” Koppel told Ifill.
A cyberattack that can take down the grid can be carried out by almost anybody, including terrorists, criminals or even an individual madman.
“And the dangerous thing … is, it doesn’t require a government to do it,” Koppel said. “It doesn’t require anyone with a ton of money to do it. Someone sufficiently skilled in cyber-warfare, using an individual laptop, can inflict enormous damage.”
He added: “I have been told by the man who was the former chief scientist for the NSA, the National Security Agency, that he now believes that there are individual groups, and possibly a group like ISIS, for example, which has about $2 billion, that they could buy the expertise and that the equipment they need is available off the shelf,” Koppel revealed. “That’s a pretty scary prospect.”
Many of the nation’s power companies are completely unprepared for an attack on the grid.
There is little or nothing the federal government can do to make them prepare because of deregulation, Koppel told Salon.
He also thinks Congress is unwilling to change the law to address the situation.
“The smaller companies simply don’t have the resources to engage in that kind of defensive behavior,” Koppel said. “Where the problem arises is, a really skilled hacker could hack into one of the smaller ones, or several of the smaller ones.”
Some foreign governments already have hacked into the US power grid.
“It’s incredibly complex, but there is no question that the Chinese have successfully hacked into at least one of our power grids,” Koppel said. “The Russians have done so also. The Iranians, the North Koreans and possibly individual [hackers] are on the verge of being able to do so, if they haven’t done it already.”
Koppel thinks the biggest danger comes from North Korea. The Russians, Iranians and Chinese would be afraid to hack the US grid because America could retaliate by taking down their grids and shutting down their economies. Since the North Koreans do not have a modern economy or technology, it would be hard to retaliate against them.