NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Cyber Threats to the Texas Electric Grid

September 26, 2016

Texas plays a unique role in America's infrastructure as the only state with a self-contained electric grid. The entire U.S. electric power system is a prime target of cyberattacks from hostile governments and terrorist organizations, but the Lone Star State is in a unique position to act.

The Consequences of a Vulnerable Grid. The Northeast blackout in 2003 left nearly 55 million residents of the United States and Canada temporarily without power. Crews traced the cause to a software error at a utility control room in Ohio and restored power after two days to most of those affected. But the blackout disrupted transportation in many areas, cut off city water in several locations, and hampered emergency services. Experts attributed 10 deaths to the blackout, which cost more than $10 billion.

Remember: For many, this blackout only lasted a few days. And there was no significant damage to sensitive infrastructure. However:

  • Any serious injury to important power equipment could create a blackout lasting for at least one year "given the nation's current state of unpreparedness," argues Peter Pry, a former executive of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security.
  • The Obama administration remains "unwilling to empower competent authorities to combat the adversaries within the grid environment," according to the assessment of George Cotter, the founding director of Department of Defense Computer Security Center.
  • The Pentagon's current information security strategy is nothing more than "patch and pray," said Arati Prabhakar, the Director of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), in 2015.

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