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 Post subject: Hackers Probing US Electric Grid
PostPosted: Jun Sat 15, 2019 12:57 pm 
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https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/hackers-tha ... -1.1273504

Maybe I am naive, but I don't understand why the electric grid controls are even connected to the internet. How the hell did we ever survive before the internet?


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 Post subject: Re: Hackers Probing US Electric Grid
PostPosted: Jun Sat 15, 2019 2:11 pm 
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Scott wrote:
https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/hackers-that-took-down-saudi-oil-site-probing-u-s-power-grid-1.1273504

Maybe I am naive, but I don't understand why the electric grid controls are even connected to the internet. How the hell did we ever survive before the internet?


Doesn't almost everything in industry and business use the internet for data transmission? Even if you are big enough to use a satellite with a dedicated point to point communications .. you still use someone else's satellite and someone else's software. Given that the USA power grid is really just a bunch of small companies talking to each other ... there's no way they could each afford their own satellite. Hard wired com lines like telephone .... pretty easy to sabotage? Doesn't seem like there's a lot of choice unless every utility station with controls is manned 24/7 and each operator has a cell phone to take verbal instructions ... pretty neanderthal choice.


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 Post subject: Re: Hackers Probing US Electric Grid
PostPosted: Jun Sat 15, 2019 2:27 pm 
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Location: Ft Worth TX
That would be a giggle for them, wouldn't it? Make everyone's lights blink dirty words in Morse.

The capability exists for grid data over the grid itself; how widely implemented I know not but Austin had it and it's only verging on 'metro' status. To access it at all, whatever-ists would have to tap ~138kV lines and know the format and command set. Surely the grid doesn't run on Windows; skyguy knows what a bluescreen would do to a turbine.

But then positive train control capability exists yet goes embarrassingly unimplemented. Who knows where the industry stands on data security? Oh, we can't tell you that. It's classified. Meaning forbidden to honest people. What I 'know' is from chatting a lineman at the substation that blew up the night before. Not kidding.

You know those "transformer explosions" the media gets all frothy about but aren't really? This one really was. As in KABOOOOM at 3AM from a mile away. 7.2kV feeder xfmr destroyed like little Chernobyl. Austin Electric had the lights back on in a half hour but I didn't need to ask how they did that.

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Last edited by arbilab on Jun Sat 15, 2019 2:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Hackers Probing US Electric Grid
PostPosted: Jun Sat 15, 2019 2:51 pm 
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economics......it's pretty expensive to build your own network.

In the classified world, there is at least one "internet" with zero connections to the internet we know and love. I saw only one piece of it---complete with dedicated underground copper lines and massive electronics for encryption / decryption. I don't know the extent of it, but it covers the "lower 48" as a minimum.
You don't want to know how much this all costs.

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 Post subject: Re: Hackers Probing US Electric Grid
PostPosted: Jun Sat 15, 2019 3:07 pm 
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Quote:
it's pretty expensive to build your own network
Not so much compared to the overall capitalization of the industry. The conductors are already there, a little inductive is all. The active terminal hardware is off-the-shelf and for all I know, the software framework is too.

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 Post subject: Re: Hackers Probing US Electric Grid
PostPosted: Jun Sat 15, 2019 3:45 pm 
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Using isolation networks, switching and other control data is sent over the high lines. It (was) an isolated system for the utility. If it still is I do not know. I suspect that fiber is also buried along the line route as well.

Makes for good sci-fi movies I suppose.

IMHO I would get (a bit) concerned more so over the aging infrastructure. Despite astronomical rates the failing components seem to be the ones that get media attention. I suppose so from exploding transformers and manhole covers going up like flying saucers. :roll:

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 Post subject: Re: Hackers Probing US Electric Grid
PostPosted: Jun Sat 15, 2019 3:49 pm 
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Joined: Nov Fri 04, 2011 3:12 am
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Location: New York
Some reasons--

Electricity is generated and then sold. The buyer needs access to consummate the deal. Not the actual $$$ moving here, but that they want Xmw delivered via ABC transmission lines. Other firms want to follow the prices per megawatt as price and demand fluctuates. So you have customers who want to purchase or monitor.

As an example, New York is forcing power plants out of operation and not licensing new replacement plants. So now all that electricity will have to come from elsewhere. Almost always now from many hundreds of miles away. For peak use, say during a heat wave, you are now buying the extra Juicetricity on the open market. So the electricity market is actually buying and selling 24 By 7.

Those who monitor air pollution want to know when demand is increasing as well so they can ramp up air quality checking. So they are also watching the online market.

And you then also have firms running remote monitoring of their gear. Do I need to mention almost no one changes the default password on "dumb' devices now on a company's computer network? And a lot of firms are geographically spread out over large distances so remote switching or circuit breaker resets do occur as well. A lot of gear is really out in the sticks as you know.

Just think of web cameras. How many globally are using the default password? Could you take a camera offline that is used to monitor storage yards which are themselves out of town so a thief can steal copper or aluminum that is being stored for recycling? As much as the article talks about shutting down a network to cause issues it really is a much larger and complex environment than people realize.

The more complex, the more vulnerable.

John S.


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 Post subject: Re: Hackers Probing US Electric Grid
PostPosted: Jun Sat 15, 2019 3:50 pm 
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If it's isolated, how are people hacking it?

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"Measure voltage, but THINK current." --anon.


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 Post subject: Re: Hackers Probing US Electric Grid
PostPosted: Jun Sat 15, 2019 3:52 pm 
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Wasn't there a city whose electric or gas was hacked into and caused a small disruption? People were saying it was just a test from the hackers of bigger things to come.


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 Post subject: Re: Hackers Probing US Electric Grid
PostPosted: Jun Sat 15, 2019 4:58 pm 
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I can vividly remember the Northeast blackout of 2003 with every single electrical power company in the grid blaming each other for the outage. In one instance, a New York power company accused the Mohawk Power Company of Ontario of causing the failure. Predictably, the Mohawk Power Company quickly fired back, and accused the New York power company of causing the outage. After a few more squabbling back and forth between the power companies, a joint U.S./ Canadian commission was formed. In the end, they finally traced the source of the problem to some overgrown tree limbs that fell on the main electrical transmission lines in Ohio. Those transmission lines, of course, were owned by First Energy, and this was determined to have caused a momentary break in electrical power. They also found that First Energy was deficient in scheduling periodic tree trimming to prevent such occurrences.


Last edited by Blustar1 on Jun Sat 15, 2019 6:27 pm, edited 6 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Hackers Probing US Electric Grid
PostPosted: Jun Sat 15, 2019 5:11 pm 
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Joined: Nov Fri 04, 2011 3:12 am
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Location: New York
A company in Ohio was responsible. They had power line monitoring which failed for some reason so an overload was not detected. from there it was dominos.
John S.


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 Post subject: Re: Hackers Probing US Electric Grid
PostPosted: Jun Sat 15, 2019 5:43 pm 
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The power distribution and generation companies have lots of reasons to be networked together. And it's far easier to use the existing internet backbone than trying to build out a separate infrastructure.

The internet backbone itself is very heavily guarded. And it's mostly just data; that's not where the hacks are coming from (although it's not inconceivable that bad actors would try to hack the backbone). There is still quite a heavy layer of security between the backbone and the various substations, generation plants, etc. And there is data being transmitted on the power lines themselves. Either of these areas could be hacked theoretically.

The mainstream press does a horrific job when it comes to discussing internet security, so it's best to treat stories about that topic with a huge grain of salt. The reality is that the weakest links tend to be humans. Stuxnet was spread by people putting unsecured USB drives into secure computers.


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 Post subject: Re: Hackers Probing US Electric Grid
PostPosted: Jun Sun 16, 2019 2:17 am 
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Yup. If some secretary's computer gets hacked it's reported as if the entire company was shut down.

It's not hard to avoid "viruses". Code has to be executed, it doesn't run itself. Don't have things happen automatically (hotplug, email) and bad things won't happen automatically.


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 Post subject: Re: Hackers Probing US Electric Grid
PostPosted: Jun Sun 16, 2019 4:32 am 
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pixellany wrote:
If it's isolated, how are people hacking it?


That's the big problem with articles like this one. All it says is they are probing it.

To me it's a bit like the latest thing from security experts saying that you should not use the USB chargers at airports because someone could hack your device through the outlet. I wonder if any of those security "experts" have looked inside one of those outlets to see if the two data lines of the USB ports are even connected.

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 Post subject: Re: Hackers Probing US Electric Grid
PostPosted: Jun Sun 16, 2019 8:27 pm 
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Power utility control systems work hard to keep their control networks isolated from external networks. Its tough to do in the real world though. The financial and business side of power utilities need the historical operating data generated by the control system and operations department. The financial and business networks are much looser and not locked down like the control networks and its not unusual for them to be connected to the internet or other public networks.
Generally, operational control networks will be behind a firewall(s) with extremely limited access to the outside networks wanting access to operational data.

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 Post subject: Re: Hackers Probing US Electric Grid
PostPosted: Jun Mon 17, 2019 3:09 am 
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Greetings to the Forum:

It seems to me that we are missing something here. I looked up "internet" in Wikipedia and it says (if I read it correctly) that the modern internet had its beginnings in a National Science Foundation backbone in the 1980's and began to be recognizable as our modern internet no earlier than the 1990's. However, we had a national electrical grid prior to WW II (that's 1939 to 1945 for those of you with a modern public education) and we certainly had a highly integrated power grid by the 1970's and 1980's. So why all of a sudden this focus on the internet?

Obviously, it is not necessary for the functioning of the grid.... and if there is a problem with hacker susceptibility, then we ought to dust off the techniques used before the internet existed and make sure that they are in place to pick up the pieces. Better yet, go back to the old ways for primary control. You can't hack a multi-megawatt manual switchboard.

Regards,

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 Post subject: Re: Hackers Probing US Electric Grid
PostPosted: Jun Mon 17, 2019 10:43 am 
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Quote:
So why all of a sudden this focus on the internet?
First thought that raises is, grid now operating so close to capacity[sub max] makes it more dependent on data analysis at-speed. But only speculating.

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 Post subject: Re: Hackers Probing US Electric Grid
PostPosted: Jun Mon 17, 2019 11:24 am 
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Our entire power grid structure is one huge weak link waiting for something bad to happen to it. It is antiquated, overloaded, and susceptible to all sorts of failures, some of them catastrophic. It has been "upgraded" and "updated" any number of times, and is of course much better than it was originally, but it is still a very weak link in the country.

It is based upon what I now consider to be an antiquated model of energy generation and distribution. Huge, lumbering power plants located here and there providing most of our energy. Transported over very lossy cable from state to state, in some cases to be sold at a profit, in some cases to supplement an area that may need more power temporarily than at other times. In spite of this, some substations still have rows of backup generators called "peaking" systems, for when more is required. Keep an eye out for a concrete pad with 20 or 30 semis, and huge tanks of diesel fuel, adjacent to your favorite country substation along the grid. Those are gigantic diesel generators.

At the same time, the very act of transporting all this power probably loses enough energy through the act of transmission, to power the USA forever. But it still makes the utilities a lot of $$$. I am NOT against companies making money .... but that aside, much better solutions exist today.

One solution would be more localized power generation. Possibly expensive relative to the above model, but a whole lot safer. Another would be some combination of this, and personal (one home) power solutions, which all would take some load, and therefore strain (and dependence on no failure) off of the grid system, removing the danger from failure due to either trees or hackers. Or a turbine blowing up. Or whatever.

but, alas, it's not likely to happen any time soon......

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 Post subject: Re: Hackers Probing US Electric Grid
PostPosted: Jun Mon 17, 2019 1:04 pm 
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n3uvt wrote:
Wasn't there a city whose electric or gas was hacked into and caused a small disruption? People were saying it was just a test from the hackers of bigger things to come.

Are you referring to Baltimore City? It is still off line.

https://cityservices.baltimorecity.gov/water/

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 Post subject: Re: Hackers Probing US Electric Grid
PostPosted: Jun Mon 17, 2019 6:29 pm 
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Location: Powell River BC Canada
A person who worked in our department in the 1970s, (came from a telco
background) , said that on the early space flights, a G-man was posted at the door
of every MDF (main distributing frame) in exchanges through which circuits linking
the earth stations ran. After the mission was finished, he vanished.

Substations often undergo 'melts'. The reason is usually, tired old, overloaded
gear, and lack of maintenance. In Vancouver BC, the substation in the basement
of the head office of the power company, would let go, and blow the glass from
the windows onto the street. There was good money putting a substation
back together and crews could do it very quickly, since that kind of failure
was one of the reasons operating crews were needed in the first place.

Before the internet substations could be linked with carrier current systems
sent over the transmission lines. These operated on VLF. After the internet,
there were issues because the internet data rate was much slower than the
carrier current systems.

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