Skip to main content

Peter Zeihan

Geopolitical Strategist

Share
Commentary

Are US power grids vulnerable to cyberattacks?

May 21

Share

Peter Zeihan

Geopolitical Strategist

Share

Cybersecurity is quickly evolving as new threats, capabilities and technologies continue to emerge. Core infrastructure, including power and electric grids, may be vulnerable to cyberattacks. But such an attack might be far more complicated and demanding than most Americans realize — so should Americans be concerned about the threat at all?

Watch the above video as Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan breaks down the components of what an attack at that scale would require, and whether he thinks Americans should be worried or not about a potential attack on U.S. power grids.


Be the first to know when Peter Zeihan publishes a new commentary! Download the Straight Arrow News app and enable push notifications today!


The following is an excerpt of Peter’s May 21 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

I’ve started hearing rumblings about the American power grid and vulnerability to cyber attacks. Sure there’s been hiccups throughout the years, but this one isn’t keeping me up at night.

Those hiccups I mentioned, such as the post-9/11 power surge, have laid the groundwork for improving the American power grid’s resilience. Through technological advancements, decentralizing power generation, and network segmentation, the American power grid is reasonably equipped to handle most potential hacks. That’s a major pain for the green transition, but shockingly positive for security.

Thanks to the segmented nature of our grid and the quick response plans in place, hacks just don’t pose that big of risk. So no, the stability and safety of the American power grid does not keep me from catching some ZZZs.

Hey everyone, Peter Zeihan coming to you from California’s pacific coast where that smudge on the horizon is, I don’t know courier something. Anyway, today we’re gonna do the most recent of our ongoing series of things that I do and don’t worry about. And this is one of those is kind of in the maybe category specifically, do I worry about the stability of the American power grid? And could it go down in a cyber attack? Well, let’s start with a little refresher of how things can go horribly, horribly wrong. If you remember back to the aftermath of the 911 attacks over 20 years ago, we had a power surge the trip to a system in Upper Canada, that triggered a series of system failures that cascaded into the United States, and ultimately knocked out a huge swath between the Ohio River Basin and the eastern seaboard going up into Canada. And so New York, among other major cities went dark for a couple of days.

 

So you know, the, the danger is real. But the problem there is, whenever there was a surge, or a shortage in the local system, it could carry through the network to the next node. And if the next node couldn’t handle that surge or shortage, and carry on to the next one, the next one, next one, the whole thing would burn out. So while there was certainly a very real concern back in the early 2000s of that, but that being weaponized against us, everyone certainly knew what the problem was and spent the next several years trying to patch up and especially putting kind of pallet breaks and firewalls in between the system. So you wouldn’t have a cascading failure in the case of attack. So that’s kind of piece one. Piece two is the Green Revolution and the advent of a lot of digital technologies and managing the system. Every time you have another system that is digitized every wind turbine and every solar panel has to be digitized to feed into the grid, so you don’t get surges. There is another point to access where you could be hacked. But one of the pluses of having a green tech involved system is each individual power unit is relatively low compared to something like a massive coal burning power plant. And so you might be able to short out some issues, and you might be able to cause a brownout, but the idea that will cascade is not very likely because you can’t take a singular massive point of power production or consumption offline with a single hack. Does it make you hack proof, but it certainly makes the system more resistant. And even some basic cryptography within the system can provide a degree of insulation that was not possible in an older analog system. The third thing is keep in mind that no matter how bad how bad how bad it gets, there is an upper limit to how much damage can be done. Because the United States grid is not one thing. We’ve got three massive nearly continent spanning grids one basically goes from the Rocky Mountains, West, one goes from the Great Plains East. And the last one is to be perfectly blunt, mostly Texas, the connections among those three grids are very, very thin, there aren’t a lot of wires that crossed those seams. So even in the worst case scenario, you’re only talking about a third of the country rough going down. But even within that that makes it sound a lot worse than it really is. Because most parts of the grid most generation most consumption is within a much smaller network. Unlike most countries, we don’t have a single power generator and provider. We don’t have dozens, we don’t have hundreds, we’ve got 1000s most independent communities have their own power grid with their own power generation and their own consumer base. And while there are links among those many, many, many, many, it’s not like they’re all part of a single network. And so each individual community with each individual utility maintains their own system, it has their own firewalls to prevent the sort of thing that happened back in the early 2020s. Does that mean we’re immune to hacking? Oh, God, no, our defense in that is woefully insufficient. But it does mean that in order to take out an entire section of the grid, you have to hack hundreds if not 1000s, if not 10s of 1000s of things at the same time. And we’ve never seen that sort of coordinate action ever. Because as soon as the alarm goes off at someone’s being hacked everyone else with each micro network is going to get awardee shot fired at them, and then others can respond as is appropriate. So am I worried? Oh, little bit, but it definitely doesn’t make my top 100 List.

More from Peter Zeihan

Latest Commentary

We know it is important to hear from a diverse range of observers on the complex topics we face and believe our commentary partners will help you reach your own conclusions.

The commentaries published in this section are solely those of the contributors and do not reflect the views of Straight Arrow News.


Latest Opinions

In addition to the facts, we believe it’s vital to hear perspectives from all sides of the political spectrum. We hope these different voices will help you reach your own conclusions.

The opinions published in this section are solely those of the contributors and do not reflect the views of Straight Arrow News.

Weekly Voices

Left Opinion Right Opinion

Tuesday

Left Opinion Right Opinion

Wednesday

Left Opinion Right Opinion

Thursday

Left Opinion Right Opinion

Friday

Left Opinion Right Opinion