EMP | Electrical Grids | A Thought Experiment
I had a discussion today with my brother that sparked my mind on the whole issue of EMP and probably why the government is so fired up about it lately as a threat to the US infrastructure. It occurred to me as I was speaking about the problem, that indeed there is a real and credible threat to the US grid “if” there are coordinated attacks on strategic sites with EMP as well as traditional explosive devices. Of course, this also could actually include kinetic attacks as well as electronic attacks a la the likes of something like the Stuxnet worm. I however, and just going on the contention that well placed attacks on the grid with explosives as well as EMP devices made for approximately $400.00, could in fact cause a cascade effect on the grid that could bring it down. Just how hard it would take it down I am not sure. The one thing I suspect though, is that this very scenario might be the catalyst for all the hullabaloo and reports that the senate had worked on this last year.
You see, at one time the everyone pretty much thought that the only EMP attack would be a high altitude detonation of a nuclear weapon. It seems the technologies have changed now and it is possible to build something like you can see below. That device was made and or located by the military as well as the second image the device is known as a “Flux Compression Generator” The actual concussive device is not shown, what you are seeing is the focusing device for the actual EMP.
The above version is a simulated device used for IED training
The next step in the experiment is to determine the map of the grid and as you can see from the first picture in this post and the one right above, you can easily get the map to the grid online with a little help from Google. The image directly above shows the power generation plants and as you can surmise, the larger the red circle, the bigger the plant and the service area that it covers. By using this map (the map is interactive online too yay security!) and the one at the top of the page, you can see the importance of each site strategically as well as where the main power lines go to power the country.
One could then create the devices that could conceivably fit in a van and park them close to the facilities or even on the premises if you engineer your way in. Just drive up, park, and trigger.
Would it work? Well, given the right amount of power of explosives and if you likely also use other attacks that destroy the large transformers that we buy from the Chinese and take 2 years to build, then yes, you can take down those sites. Sites that will likely be down for quite a while as we do not have these transformers on hand. We would have to order them from the Chinese and, well, you know how it goes. Mind you, as the reports that the Senate has had created show, these systems are not shielded for any kind of EM burst and as far as infrastructure goes, the grid and the power stations are still a soft target as far as I hear from sources who perform red team testing on them.
Next, we have the areas of attack. According to a paper put out in 2008 “Cascade-based attack vulnerability on the US power grid” a couple of Chinese researchers have postulated that a series of attacks on the “networks” of the power grid could cause a cascade effect and in fact “may” have been the scenario for the 14 August 2003 blackout that occurred in the US. It is my contention that a similar attack can be carried out by the use of the EMP/explosives scenario and the fallout cascade from power demand as well as feedback that could ensue. Add to this that the initiating attack potentially taking out vulnerable systems like the large transformers, then you have a long lasting effect to the attack on top of the cascading out of effects to the power lines and sub stations.
All of this however, would only be the start of problems for us.
Once you take out the power, you can see from the image above, that the interconnected nature of our energy cycle and use causes even further issues. If those systems are down for a long period of time, we will see anarchy grow from fear and human nature as people feel threatened and frustrated from lack of energy. Energy that the country increasingly needs to power everything from their cell phones, to their heat, light, and general lives. If all of this were to fail, then the people would I assume, begin to freak out. It would likely start to look like “Mad Max” out there. I could be wrong… But.. Ya know, human nature…
Add to this the events surrounding the Stuxnet malware and its capabilities to manipulate SCADA systems and the vulnerabilities that have been brought to light, and you have another threat vector to add to the pot. This would be more nation state it would seem in order of magnitude, but, entirely possible with a concerted effort on the part of any entity with the will and the funds to create and implement the worm. Imagine that in a kinetic attack with the EMP and the possible use of a worm like stuxnet, it would be complex, but it would magnify the damage by scales if it worked. Systems not only down from physical damage, but also those interconnected systems not in the blast area could also be taken down in a timed manner by those who controlled such code.
I really hope that I am wrong but, this scenario seems logical. The technology is not all that hard to carry out for a trained scientist, and even if the event did not knock out all of the nodes that would be needed to take out large areas within the country, it would be enough to cause mass panic and damage. So, in the end, I am just saying that EMP seems to be much more viable an attack than one might think and when one asks themselves why the government was so keen this last year on EMP, you might just look as far as this type of scenario for the answer.