Infrastructure | Homeland Security Newswire

  • Climate threats & nuclear plantsWhat are coastal nuclear power plants doing to address climate threats?

    By John Vidal

    Flooding can be catastrophic to a nuclear power plant because it can knock out its electrical systems, disabling its cooling mechanisms and leading to overheating and possible meltdown and a dangerous release of radioactivity. At least 100 U.S., European and Asian nuclear power stations built just a few meters above sea level could be threatened by serious flooding caused by accelerating sea-level rise and more frequent storm surges. More than 20 flooding incidents have been recorded at U.S. nuclear plants since the early 1980s. A number of scientific papers published in 2018 suggest that climate change will impact coastal nuclear plants earlier and harder than the industry, governments, or regulatory bodies have expected, and that the safety standards set by national nuclear regulators and the IAEA are out of date and take insufficient account of the effects of climate change on nuclear power.

  • Critical infrastructureUrban water services vulnerable to attacks using a botnet of smart commercial irrigation systems

    Cybersecurity researchers warn of a potential distributed attack against urban water services which uses a botnet of smart irrigation systems. The researchers analyzed and found vulnerabilities in a number of commercial smart irrigation systems, which enable attackers to remotely turn watering systems on and off at will. Botnet attacks can also empty an urban water tower in an hour, and empty flood water reservoir overnight.

  • FloodsFlood thy neighbor: Who stays dry and who decides?

    By Lisa Song, Patrick Michels, and Al Shaw

    When rivers flood now in the United States, the first towns to get hit are the unprotected ones right by the river. The last to go, if they flood at all, are the privileged few behind strong levees. While levees mostly are associated with large, low-lying cities such as New Orleans, a majority of the nation’s Corps-managed levees protect much smaller communities, rural farm towns and suburbs such as Valley Park. Missouri. Valley Park’s levee saga captures what’s wrong with America’s approach to controlling rivers.

  • Grid securityAs Russians hack the U.S. grid, a look at what’s needed to protect it

    By Manimaran Govindarasu and Adam Hahn

    The U.S. electricity grid is hard to defend because of its enormous size and heavy dependency on digital communication and computerized control software. The number of potential targets is growing as “internet of things” devices, such as smart meters, solar arrays and household batteries, connect to smart grid systems. In late 2015 and again in 2016, Russian hackers shut down parts of Ukraine’s power grid. In March 2018, federal officials warned that Russians had penetrated the computers of multiple U.S. electric utilities and were able to gain access to critical control systems. Four months later, the Wall Street Journal reported that the hackers’ access had included privileges that were sufficient to cause power outages. It’s important for electric utilities, grid operators and vendors to remain vigilant and deploy multiple layers of defense.

  • GridWanted: Smart ideas for grid modernization

    A consortium of national labs and nonprofit organizations has announced a call for concepts to engage the smart grid community in demonstrating visionary interoperability capabilities on how facilities with distributed energy resources, or DERs, integrate and interact with the utility grid.

  • Grid securityToward a more secure electrical grid

    Not long ago, getting a virus was about the worst thing computer users could expect in terms of system vulnerability. But in our current age of hyper-connectedness and the emerging Internet of Things, that’s no longer the case. With connectivity, a new principle has emerged, one of universal concern to those who work in the area of systems control. That law says, essentially, that the more complex and connected a system is, the more susceptible it is to disruptive cyber-attacks.

  • The Russia connectionBipartisan bill introduces “crushing” measures against “Kremlin aggression”

    An influential bipartisan group of U.S. senators has introduced a package of measures designed to “defend American security from Kremlin aggression,” including new financial sanctions and a “strong statement of support” for NATO. The bill introduced on 2 August represents at least the fourth piece of legislation circulating in Congress to punish Russia for its alleged interference in U.S. elections, its aggression in Ukraine and Syria, and other “malign” activities. “The current sanctions regime has failed to deter Russia from meddling in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections,” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) said in a statement introducing the bill. “Our goal is to change the status quo and impose crushing sanctions and other measures against [President Vladimir] Putin’s Russia until he ceases and desists meddling in the U.S. electoral process, halts cyberattacks on U.S. infrastructure, removes Russia from Ukraine, and ceases efforts to create chaos in Syria,” Graham said.

  • GridDetecting faults in the electrical grid

    Globally, most of the energy infrastructure that we rely on every day is over 35 years old. Like most things, age has not improved its functionality. There are people who work to prevent these sorts of catastrophes. Maintenance crews fly helicopters alongside high voltage power lines, getting up close to visually inspect infrastructure bit by bit. A much safer approach to maintenance is to take assets offline and then assess them for faults. Researchers have developed an innovative approach to maintenance which has the potential to do away with these inconvenient, time-consuming and dangerous practices—and also save us a whole lot of money.

  • Disasters & healthFecal bacteria contaminated surface water after Hurricane Harvey

    Hurricane Harvey was an unprecedented rain event that delivered five consistent days of flooding and storms to Texas last August. Now, researchers have substantiated that the storm caused high levels of fecal contamination to be introduced into waterways draining into the Gulf of Mexico and impairing surface water quality.

  • Water securityGroundwater recharge project helps California’s sustainability efforts

    The depletion of California’s aquifers by over-pumping of groundwater has led to growing interest in “managed aquifer recharge,” which replenishes depleted aquifers using available surface waters, such as high flows in rivers, runoff from winter storms, or recycled waste water. At the same time, there is growing concern about contamination of groundwater supplies with nitrate from fertilizers, septic tanks, and other sources. Study shows how collecting storm-water runoff to replenish depleted groundwater supplies can be coupled with a simple strategy to reduce nitrate contaminants.

  • Cyberespionage & cyberwarWith hacking of U.S. utilities, Russia could move from cyberespionage toward cyberwar

    By Frank J. Cilluffo and Sharon L. Cardash

    Even before the revelation on 23 July that Russian government hackers had penetrated the computer systems of U.S. electric utilities and could have caused blackouts, government agencies and electricity industry leaders were working to protect U.S. customers and society as a whole. These developments highlight an important distinction of conflict in cyberspace: between probing and attacking. The distinction between exploiting weaknesses to gather information – also known as “intelligence preparation of the battlefield” – and using those vulnerabilities to actually do damage is impossibly thin and depends on the intent of the people doing it. Intentions are notoriously difficult to figure out. In global cyberspace they may change depending on world events and international relations. The dangers – to the people of the United States and other countries both allied and opposed – underscore the importance of international agreement on what constitutes an act of war in cyberspace and the need for clear rules of engagement.

  • The Russia connectionSenate committees to hold hearings on Russia, recommend additional punitive measures

    Two Senate committees – the Foreign Relations Committee and the Banking Committee – announced they will hold a series of hearings on Russia. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) tasked Senators Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, with holding hearings on the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), and asked them to recommend to the Senate additional measures that could respond to or deter what he called “Russian malign behavior.”

  • Grid securityRussians hacked into America’s electric grid. Here’s why securing it is hard.

    By Theodore J. Kury

    Hackers taking down the U.S. electricity grid may sound like a plot ripped from a Bruce Willis action movie, but the Department of Homeland Security has recently disclosed new details about the extent to which Russia has infiltrated “critical infrastructure” like American power plants, water facilities and gas pipelines. This hacking is similar to the 2015 and 2016 attacks on Ukraine’s grid. While DHS has raised the number of the Russian utility-hacking incidents it detected from dozens to hundreds, it still maintains that this infiltration has not risen beyond scouting mode. Clearly, there’s no time to waste in shoring up the grid’s security. Yet getting that done is not easy.

  • LandslidesNew model predicts landslides caused by earthquakes

    Landslides are the third-largest contributor to earthquake deaths, after building collapse and tsunamis. From 2004 to 2010, earthquake-induced landslides caused an estimated 47,000 deaths. Researchers have developed a model which can help experts address such risks by estimating the likelihood of landslides that will be caused by earthquakes anywhere in the world.

  • Planetary securityCelestial hazards: Twenty years of planetary defense

    NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies was established in 1998 to fulfill a 1998 Congressional request to detect and catalogue at least 90 percent of all NEOs larger than one kilometer in size (roughly two-thirds of a mile) within 10 years. In 2005, Congress established a new, much more ambitious goal for the NEO Observations Program — to discover 90 percent of the NEOs down to the much smaller size of 450 feet (140 meters), and to do so by the year 2020. There are now over 18,000 known NEOs and the discovery rate averages about 40 per week.