A cyber-attack on the power grid has the potential to bring down electric, water and wastewater services—which is why so many states, and the federal government, are developing response strategies in case of this nightmare scenario. And while such an outcome is certainly possible, it may not be as likely as people think.
Cris "SpaceRogue" Thomas, a former hacker turned cyber-security researcher, examined 35 years of data related to the disruption of power grids worldwide. His conclusion? Squirrels are far more likely to threaten critical infrastructure than Russian hackers.
Thomas runs a project called Cybersquirrel1, which tracks power outages caused by squirrels and other critters—birds, snakes, raccoons, rats and the like—as well as the extremely rare cases in which they are caused by malicious hackers.
Of the more than 1,700 known acts of global power-grid sabotages, 879 were caused by squirrels, according to the data. Thirteen outages were caused by jellyfish, including one that shut down a Swedish nuclear power plant in 2013. Only three were caused by humans: the two Ukrainian power outages in 2015 and 2016, and one caused by the United States. The U.S. created Stuxnet, a malicious computer worm, which crippled the Iranian nuclear program in late 2009 and early 2010 by severely damaging its uranium enrichment infrastructure.
While society must remain vigilant to the possibility of rogue info-warriors disrupting the power grid, Thomas notes, we must also consider it for what it is: just one of the grid’s many threats. Learn more about Thomas’ project at cybersquirrel1.com, or follow the project on Twitter @CyberSquirrel1. iBi