Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Please Remain Calm: My Metcalf Substation Physical Security Take-Aways

Valentines Day update - Two more good links have surfaced for you since I wrote the original post a few days ago:
PBS Interview with Jon Wellinghof and Mark Weatherford 
A 3rd WSJ article, this one largely a counterpoint to the more FUD-oriented first one

It's been nearly 10 days now since the Wall Street Journal published its big story on the attack on a transmission substation outside Silicon Valley in California.  Since then, the media, keying on words like "assault, military-style, terrorism" have had a pre-apocalyptic field day.

So in my own way, I've been running a counter-alarmism campaign when speaking with the press as well as with infrastructure security experts about to go live on one of the hysterical "news shows."

My main points are:

  • This attack was significant but it didn't cause a blackout
  • So be concerned, but don't overreact
  • You can thank the hard work and preparation by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) for at least 2 things: 1) rerouting energy flows so there was no perceptible customer impact despite the loss of many transformers, and, 2) getting the substation fully back on line within one month
  • This was a great opportunity for utilities to refresh their physical security policies, and that's what they're doing right now
  • Utilities are already taking concrete steps to deter this type of attack, including: erecting screens or walls to block a would-be shooter's view of his/her intended targets, inviting citizens living near substations to call their utilities if they see something suspicious, in the spirit of the "if you see something, say something" transit security campaign, and looking at the transformer stockpiling and loaner program 
My more-than-slightly-frustrated-with-certain-people point is:

Physical security will now be top of mind for grid security experts for a while. But since some minds are smaller than others I've heard certain experts say maybe we worry about grid cyber security too much. Brilliant, a physical attack means we should slow down on cyber security. Why didn't I think of that? I'm sure that's how cyber attack types think. Seeing the near-success of the Metcalf attack, they're probably trading in their laptops for bricks and bullets right now.

You may or may not have access to the WSJ articles below, but in case you do, here are 3 links that help tell the story, including a first one from shortly after the attack, before the hyperbole started flowing:
As always, please keep calm and carry on. There's a lot of important work to do.


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