Feeds

IT Failures In The Great US Blackout

Feeling powerless

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

A report issued by a panel of US Government and Power Industry officials has placed the blame for the largest power outage in North American history primarily on computer and human failures, writes Robin Bloor of Bloor Research. FirstEnergy of Ohio and the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, the regional agency with responsibility for overseeing FirstEnergy are roundly criticized.

According to the report, the cascade of failures were caused in part by the failure of FirstEnergy to maintain transmission lines by trimming trees near the power lines. The problem began when an active power line was shorted to earth by a tree. When power lines are heavily active, the wires heat up and sag which may be what happened. However this should not have cascaded into a wider crisis.

As the crisis unfolded, a computer program that should have set alarms off in FirstEnergy's control room failed. Consequently the computer system itself failed and then the back-up/disaster recovery system failed. Consequently, operators in the control room had no clear idea of what was happening. According to the report, FirstEnergy's computer maintenance staff failed to tell the control room of the failure for over an hour. FirstEnergy disputes, this saying that the control room staff actually informed the computer staff of the failure. Meanwhile Midwest I.S.O. was having trouble with its "state estimator", a computer program that reports on whether the electricity grid is in trouble. According to the report, a technician turned the program off, tried to fix it, forgot to turn it back on and then went to lunch.

There is no mention in the report of whether any of these failures were caused or contributed to by the MSBlast worm/virus which was active at the time that the blackout occurred. However it is unlikely that it would be mentioned. Computer systems within the North American energy grid are supposed to be secure and a failure of security is, after all, just another failure of a system. There has been some suggestion on the Web that MSBlast was a contributory factor or even the prime cause of the blackout. The report does say that conditions on the grid were not abnormal when the cascade of failure began.

In any event it is clear that computer system failure was the heart of the problem and given the estimated billions of dollars costs to businesses from the blackout, it seems certain that IT audit and compliance will now be strongly enforced. Quite rightly so.

© IT-Analysis.com

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
NSA SOURCE CODE LEAK: Information slurp tools to appear online
Now you can run your own intelligence agency
Azure TITSUP caused by INFINITE LOOP
Fat fingered geo-block kept Aussies in the dark
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Yahoo! blames! MONSTER! email! OUTAGE! on! CUT! CABLE! bungle!
Weekend woe for BT as telco struggles to restore service
Cloud unicorns are extinct so DiData cloud mess was YOUR fault
Applications need to be built to handle TITSUP incidents
BOFH: WHERE did this 'fax-enabled' printer UPGRADE come from?
Don't worry about that cable, it's part of the config
Stop the IoT revolution! We need to figure out packet sizes first
Researchers test 802.15.4 and find we know nuh-think! about large scale sensor network ops
SanDisk vows: We'll have a 16TB SSD WHOPPER by 2016
Flash WORM has a serious use for archived photos and videos
Astro-boffins start opening universe simulation data
Got a supercomputer? Want to simulate a universe? Here you go
prev story

Whitepapers

10 ways wire data helps conquer IT complexity
IT teams can automatically detect problems across the IT environment, spot data theft, select unique pieces of transaction payloads to send to a data source, and more.
The total economic impact of Druva inSync
Examining the ROI enterprises may realize by implementing inSync, as they look to improve backup and recovery of endpoint data in a cost-effective manner.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.