(WASHINGTON, DC) – A government exercise meant to test the nation's response to attacks against the nation's power grid had the most trouble, not from simulated hackers or bomb attacks, but from its massive stream of simulated newscasts, Facebook and Twitter feeds.
Largest attack exercise: The utility industry's grid security watchdog, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, issued its first report on the GridEx IV exercise Friday, showing it to be its largest grid and infrastructure security event so far.
Adding realism gets difficult: To add to the realism of the war games, the two-day event in November had its own simulated newscasts and social media feeds. It began including traditional and social media in its last GridEx event in 2015. But the expanded array of social media and tweets in last year's exercise almost proved to be too much to handle, according to the report.
Crashing the system: The problem stemmed from realistic newscasts competing for space on the same server with social media, which nearly broke the entire system.
The media platform was used to "imitate" social media, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, in addition to traditional media such as television, newspapers, and radio.
The platform began to buckle under the pressure of juggling both network news and social media.
What did the attacks look like? “We give them an A-Team scenario” that makes it incredibly hard for utilities to cope with the level of attack, said Bill Lawrence, director of NERC’s Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center, on a Friday call.
Describing the attacks: The newscasts and tweets began to flow on day one of the Nov. 15-16 exercise, in which unnamed "adversaries launched coordinated physical attacks at predetermined sites using vehicles to deliver explosive packages to damage and disable generation and transmission facilities." Meanwhile, industry staff were seeing cyber attacks across the system.
Fog of war: Lawrence suggested one of the functions of the social media component is to create the fog of war and escalate confusion. “We live in a world of social media that our adversaries can take advantage of” to “scare” and misinform the population, he said.