The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently issued an alert for “credible, specific plans” for a [physical] attack on the electricity system by “domestic terrorists”.
US officials remember the 2013 incident in which
a still-unknown gunman fired more than 100 shots at transformers at PG&E’s Metcalf substation near San Jose, causing some $15 million in damage.
The authorities never found the attacker. Jon Wellinghoff, then chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), called it “the most significant act of domestic terrorism ever to affect the [US] grid.” Following the incident, PG&E planned to invest about $100 million to physically reinforce its critical facilities.
Transformers are also potentially the most affected victims of supply chain vulnerabilities. Given the timing of the events, it seems highly likely that one of – if not the main! – may have been the cause, if not the main cause, of the hardware backdoor (?) found in the Chinese JSHP transformers for the Ault substation.
The DHS warning is sobering in that the power system can be threatened not “only” from cyberspace, but also from “physical space” through the most traditional methods possible.
By taking the much-touted holistic approach to power system operation from cyberspace into account, the events have drawn attention to the fact that, in addition to the threats from cyberspace, the threat of ‘traditional’ physical attacks (e.g. explosions, gunfire, etc.) must also be taken into account.
It is wrong to think that a particularly motivated and determined
APT attacker might use a mixture of cyber and physical means of attack…
In any case, the US has drawn the right conclusions: by the end of 2021, it will have virtually completed the replacement of network components – including transformers! – including transformers.
Of course, it is a big question what would be enough in the event of a really massive attack – even a combined attack as described above… And in today’s highly tense world political situation, it is not even impossible that we will find out in the foreseeable future what this reserve stock has and has not been enough for…
We welcome your comments, whether you agree or disagree with the above. For example, a new post could be made in response to these, which could even lead to a substantive exchange of views.
Transleted by DeepL.