Feeds

IT Failures In The Great US Blackout

Feeling powerless

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

3 Big data security analytics techniques

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

SANS - Survey on application security programs

More from The Register

next story
This time it's 'Personal': new Office 365 sub covers just two devices
Redmond also brings Office into Google's back yard
Kingston DataTraveler MicroDuo: Turn your phone into a 72GB beast
USB-usiness in the front, micro-USB party in the back
AMD's 'Seattle' 64-bit ARM server chips now sampling, set to launch in late 2014
But they won't appear in SeaMicro Fabric Compute Systems anytime soon
Brit boffins use TARDIS to re-route data flows through time and space
'Traffic Assignment and Retiming Dynamics with Inherent Stability' algo can save ISPs big bucks
Microsoft's Nadella: SQL Server 2014 means we're all about data
Adds new big data tools in quest for 'ambient intelligence'
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.