EMP Attacks Feared for Grid

Wednesday, October 17, 2018 @ 07:10 AM gHale

By Gregory Hale
Critical infrastructures are under cyber attack, and that is not new news, but the same entities are also facing the potential for electromagnetic pulse attacks (EMP).

Does that sound like science fiction or like something from Hollywood? Or maybe it sounds more like Chicken Little yelling, “the sky is falling, the sky is falling.” Think again.

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“Cyber and electromagnetic attacks go after private companies; it’s unconventional warfare,” said David Winks, managing director of AcquSight Inc. during a session, entitled “Preparing a Critical Infrastructure Enterprise for a Cyber-Electromagnetic Pulse Attack,” at the Global Security Exchange (GSX) conference in Las Vegas, NV.

An EMP is a burst of electromagnetic radiation created by nuclear explosions. The resulting rapidly changing electric and magnetic fields may couple with electrical and electronic systems to produce damaging current and voltage surges. The specific characteristics of any particular nuclear EMP event vary according to a number of factors, the most important of which is the altitude of the detonation.

An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack could wreak havoc on the nation’s electronic systems-shutting down power grids, sources, and supply mechanisms.

There are key considerations to consider to protect against the attacks:
• Deterring cyber physical attacks may deter EMP attack
• Automated cyber incident reporting
• Vulnerability and protection assessments against combined arms
• Automated power and telecom disconnection utilizing early warning of high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (HEMP)

Along those lines, a new book came out saying the United States is vulnerable to an electromagnetic pulse event caused by a high-altitude nuclear blast or solar superstorm.

Peter Pry, a former CIA analyst and author of the book EMP Manhattan Project, is urging the government to harden the U.S. electric power system against EMP similar to the three-year crash program to build the first atomic bomb in 1942.

“Today the United States and the world faces another existential threat — from an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) catastrophe that can be caused by nature or man, and topple the technological pillars of modern electronic civilization,” said Pry in a published report, who served on a congressional EMP commission in the early 2000s.

The book contains fresh assessments of the EMP threat produced by a more recent congressional commission last year that concluded the United States would suffer millions of deaths from a major EMP incident.

EMP was discovered in the 1960s during above-ground nuclear tests. The tests showed a nuclear blast created a pulse capable of disrupting or destroying electronic devices over large areas, in some cases over 1,000 miles away.

The latest EMP commission found the United States is confronted with “a present and continuing existential threat from naturally occurring and manmade electromagnetic pulse assault and related attacks on military and critical national infrastructures.”

An EMP event would produce an electric power outage over large areas of the country that could last for a year or longer.

Emergency systems, such as generators, also are vulnerable to damage from EMP.

EMP events would disable critical supply chains and plunge the entire country into living conditions similar to those of centuries ago prior the use of electric power.

“An extended blackout today could result in the death of a large fraction of the American people through the effects of societal collapse, disease, and starvation,” the commission stated in its July 2017 report. “While national planning and preparation for such events could help mitigate the damage, few such actions are currently underway or even being contemplated.”

EMP and cyber attacks would impair the United States quickly and decisively by causing blackouts resulting from disabling large portions of the U.S. electric grid. The current grid includes three regional systems for generating and distributing electric power.

“Foreign adversaries may aptly consider nuclear EMP attack a weapon that can gravely damage the U.S. by striking at its technological Achilles Heel, without having to confront the U.S. military,” the book said.

The cost of a high-priority counter-EMP program is relatively modest compared with the original Manhattan Project.

Pry estimates that the nuclear bomb project that required new technology and machines cost about $20 billion in current dollars.

The congressional EMP Commission calculated that the cost of hardening the national electric grid would be about $2 billion dollars.

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