US Department of Energy researchers have known for nearly a decade that a cyberattack could take down the power grid and have been working to prevent it.
Researchers at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) – a Department of Energy lab — actually demonstrated that a successful cyberattack on a power plant was possible during testing in September 2007.
INL Associate Lab Director Brent Stacey recently told a local TV station that while a mock cyberattack cannot be conducted on a city’s power plant, it can be done at the Idaho lab.
“With 111 miles of transmission and distribution grid that we own here at Idaho National Laboratory, we have the ability to run those tests and provide the facts for the community to take action,” Stacey said.
The Idaho lab’s 2007 test proved that a cyberattack can cause actual physical damage to the grid, he told Local News 8 . They conducted the test on a generator.
“We put it on our grid,” Stacey said. “We took a cyber hacker 11 miles away and they hacked into the system, and actually caused the grid to commit suicide. If you go on YouTube and look for the Aurora test you’ll actually see that event.”
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In December 2015, a cyberattack  caused major power outages in the Ukraine in what was believed to be the first time that a cyberattack took down a grid for a significant period of time, Off The Grid News reported.
Stacey acknowledged that a cyberattack could take down power grids in America.
“A loss of power in a region in catastrophic,” Stacey said. “It’s important because all the other life sectors depend on electricity — fresh water, food supply and other things. It would take a very sophisticated attack to cause that kind of damage and the probabilities are low, but they’re not impossible.”
Shortly after the Aurora test, CNN reported that the Department of Homeland Security was concerned enough to brief the White House and start working on prevention efforts with the White House.
“For about $5 million and between three to five years of preparation, an organization, whether it be transnational terrorist groups or nation states, could mount a strategic attack  against the United States,” O. Sami Saydjari of the nonprofit Professionals for Cyber Defense told CNN in 2007.
A cyberattack on America’s power grid would be far more devastating than a major natural disaster, experts told CNN.
“It’s equivalent to 40 to 50 large hurricanes striking all at once,” economist Scott Borg said. “It’s greater economic damage than any modern economy ever suffered. … It’s greater than the Great Depression. It’s greater than the damage we did with strategic bombing on Germany in World War II.”
Borg estimated that such an attack would knock out power to one-third of the United States for three months and cost the country $700 billion. He made the estimate shortly after the Aurora test.
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