Pentagon, Fearing Cyber Attack, Moves to Find Alternative Comms Network

Considering the escalating tension between the U.S. and North Korea, the Pentagon is moving to create an alternative communications network in the event of a cyberattack on U.S. power grids.

According to Defense Systems, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) and BAE Systems are helming this project. The project, based on a statement from the DARPA, focuses on:

…early warning of impending attacks, situation awareness, network isolation and threat characterization in response to a widespread and persistent cyber-attack on the power grid and its dependent systems. Potentially relevant technologies include anomaly detection, planning and automated reasoning, mapping of conventional and industrial control systems networks, ad hoc network formation, analysis of industrial control systems protocols, and rapid forensic characterization of cyber threats in industrial control system devices.

The program, called the Rapid Attack Detection, Isolation and Characterization Systems (RADICS), aims to safeguard all connectivity that depends on the power grid, focusing specifically on defense networks and operational combat activities. Another major component is “early warning of impending attacks, situation awareness, network isolation and threat characterization,” according to DARPA program manager John Everett. The major recipients and benefactors of the technology would be the Department of Homeland Security and various Department of Defense Systems.

The primary goal of the new technology is to catch and disarm unauthorized users trying to attack the local network and, in response, create an intricate network protected by multiple levels of encryption and user authentication. From there the program identifies the attacked system and reroutes to an alternative Secure Emergency Network.

In laymen’s terms, the technology would work as follows:

  • First, the technology would “sense” a possible attack.
  • Various safeguards and protections would be triggered as a result of the detection.
  • If communications were compromised, a back-up system would be in place to keep future communications running.
  • If the protections stopped the cyberattack, communications would proceed as usual.

What is most interesting in this new technology is the ability to identify the “early warning signs” of a cyberattack. Threat analysis is a vital component is thwarting attacks of these kind, and according to a BAE official“the purpose for this program is to provide a technology that quickly isolates both the enterprise IP network and the power infrastructure networks to disrupt malicious cyberattacks.”

Former F.B.I. director James Woosley has been speaking out for years on the subject of the vulnerable U.S. power grid, warning that not only could a cyberattack cripple the grid, but an atmospheric nuclear explosion could also knock the grid out.

Not a quick project to undertake — it is a four-year, three-phase project — the end date is projected to be June of 2020.