Power lines are seen as an out-of-control wildfire threatens an electrical grid in Springerville, Arizona.
Power lines are seen as an out-of-control wildfire threatens an electrical grid in Springerville, Arizona. - 
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In his new book called "Lights Out," veteran journalist Ted Koppel looks at the potential for mayhem by exploring  what might happen to America's electric power grid after a strategically placed computer hack. We think of a blackout being a couple days, but what if it were weeks or months?  

Koppel cites former Senator Jay Rockefeller's story of military generals and admirals telling elected officials "if we are attacked we will lose." They were talking cyber attack. 

One of the issues with the electric power system which makes us especially vulnerable is the privatization of the industry. "It's been de-regulated," said Koppel. "So that what you now have are 3200 companies. The big ones have the best cyber protection that money can buy, the little ones don't. But when you have a network, the weakest part of the network is the most vulnerable and you can get into the strongest part by going into the weak ones." 

At the same time, said Koppel, the Feds don't have much say over the industry decisions either. "The Federal government has no control over the generation or delivery of power ... and even [with] FERC (The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission), the federal agency that can propose legislation to the industry, if 60 percent of the industry says we don't like that legislation, they don't have to accept it."  

Affinity groups and micro-grids are a few ways to defend against these scenarios at the local level, said Koppel, but in order for  America to get serious about girding the country against these kinds of attacks, more pressure needs to be put on major presidential  candidates to confront it and come up with proposals. 

 

Follow David Brancaccio at @DavidBrancaccio