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Over the past decade I have become more concerned about cyberattacks to U.S. defenses, industry, infrastructure and my own companies’ IT systems. As a Gainesville resident for 39 years and a former city planning director, I am also very concerned about cyberattacks against the city, Gainesville Regional Utilities and the systems that make up “command centers” for our governmental infrastructure within the city.
About two years ago an Iranian cyberwarfare group attacked the IT system of the Saudi Arabian national oil company Aramco. This attack destroyed more than 30,000 individual computers, all internal networks, the storage capacity for the information technology of that company and its ability to recover its information. This was not well publicized, as most cyberattacks are not publicized. Aramco was able to renew its IT system but at great expense and great loss of income.
A recent cyberattack was made on the Federal Reserve System. This attack retrieved the computer passwords used by bankers and banking institutions to obtain access to the Federal Reserve’s IT system, placing our monetary supply at risk. This was in fact an attack by a belligerent power against the finances of the U.S. and the entire world.
Last May, I attended a conference at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. One of the main presentations was from the newly appointed department head for the Department of Cyber-Warfare at the academy. His department is teaching a class for the entering plebe class (freshman class) and one to the first-class midshipmen (senior class). Those classes are the limits of the department’s capabilities at present. He emphasized that within three years there would be an academic major provided for midshipmen in cyberwarfare. An entirely new building will house this department.
The computers within the department are not connected to the Internet nor are they even connected to the academy’s intranet. The department does this so there can be no hacking into its programs or systems.
There are thousands of attempts each day to hack into the computers of the Defense Department and Central Intelligence Agency, among other federal departments and agencies. The Defense Department and other agencies responsible for national defense have thousands of “troops” involved in identifying cyberattacks and countering them. Most of these attacks originate from China, Iran, countries of the former Soviet Union and such non-state belligerents as al-Qaida.
The easiest way to destroy the ability of the United States to defend itself from a paralyzing “first strike” is to attack two sectors of our economy that are poorly defended. An attack against our financial markets would throw the entire world economy into chaos and could make the great recession of 2008 look like a minor financial fluctuation.
The second and most important sector of the economy that is at risk is the U.S. electrical grid. We all remember the blackout of 2002 when one transformer or circuit switch in Ohio brought down most of the grid in the entire Northeast United States for about a day.
We, the owners of Gainesville Regional Utilities, need to know if there has been a national emphasis on protecting the infrastructure grid for electrical power. One strength of our electrical system is that electrical power can be transferred from one utility to another depending upon demand. However, this interconnection is one of the major dangers.
Grids are controlled by stations that permit power to flow from one utility to the next. If a cyberattack were to be made upon one or more of these centers, the U.S. grids could be brought down and equipment could be destroyed. The U.S. would be placed into a situation that it has not been in since the turn of the 20th century, when most of the country was not served by an electrical system.
Think of what would happen to industry, transportation, health care and the other sectors of the great American economy. Manufacturing industries would be shut down until energy could be restored. Traffic signals around the U.S. would be nonfunctional and traffic would gridlocked in urban areas. All transportation would come to an end once the fuels available to each vehicle were consumed and if there was no electricity to pump fuels at service stations. You can imagine the problems with health care, education and all the other sectors of the economy that depend on electricity.
My concern for GRU is whether it has a plan for the effects of a cyberwarfare attack upon the electrical grids. The City Commission, as the GRU board of directors, must ensure that senior management will immediately look into this issue.
A cyber-defense bill has never made it through Congress. With the stalemate in Congress, I believe that it is imperative as a progressive community, like Gainesville, to immediately address this issue. We will all face cyberwarfare and the effects of attacks as this form of warfare becomes more prevalent in the future. Gainesville needs to act before it is engulfed in the international cyberwarfare that is presently in its beginning stages.
Samuel Mutch lives in Gainesville.