In this tour de force of investigative reporting, Ted Koppel reveals that a major cyberattack on America's power grid is not only possible but likely, that it would be devastating, and that the United States is shockingly unprepared.
Imagine a blackout lasting not days but weeks or months. Tens of millions of people over several states are affected. For those without access to generators, there is no running water, no sewage, no refrigeration or light. Food and medical supplies are dwindling. Devices we rely on have gone dark. Banks no longer function, looting is widespread, and law and order are being tested as never before.
It isn't just a scenario. A well-designed attack on just one of the nation's three electric power grids could cripple much of our infrastructure - and in the age of cyberwarfare, a laptop has become the only necessary weapon.
Several nations hostile to the United States could launch such an assault at any time. In fact, as a former chief scientist of the NSA reveals, China and Russia have already penetrated the grid. And a cybersecurity advisor to President Obama believes that independent actors - from "hacktivists" to terrorists - have the capability as well. "It's not a question of if," says Centcom Commander General Lloyd Austin, "it's a question of when."
And yet, as Koppel makes clear, the federal government, while well prepared for natural disasters, has no plan for the aftermath of an attack on the power grid. The current secretary of homeland security suggests keeping a battery-powered radio.
In the absence of a government plan, some individuals and communities have taken matters into their own hands. Among the nation's estimated three million "preppers", we meet one whose doomsday retreat includes a newly excavated three-acre lake stocked with fish and a Wyoming homesteader so self-sufficient that he crafted the thousands of adobe bricks in his house by hand. We also see the unrivaled disaster preparedness of the Mormon church, with its enormous storehouses, high-tech dairies, orchards, and proprietary trucking company - the fruits of a long tradition of anticipating the worst. But how, Koppel asks, will ordinary civilians survive?
With urgency and authority, one of our most renowned journalists examines a threat unique to our time and evaluates potential ways to prepare for a catastrophe that is all but inevitable.
©2015 Ted Koppel (P)2015 Random House Audio
"Ted Koppel's unparalleled reporting skills are on full display in Lights Out. A fascinating and frightening look at just how vulnerable we are to a cyber attack." (Anderson Cooper)
"Lights Out is a timely warning about the vulnerability of America to a massive cyber attack that would cripple all we take for granted - electricity, communication, transportation. This is not science fiction. Hats off to Ted Koppel for putting us all on alert." (Tom Brokaw)
This was a very interesting book. In a lot of ways it was preaching to the choir as I already realize the danger of a large-scale power grid failure. I have taken some small steps to self-sustainability both because of environmental concerns and because it never hurts to have useful skills. However, I don't believe Mr Koppel did a strong enough job proving the likelihood of such an attack. The possibility, yes definitely. But not the likelihood. I also believe that he left out a great deal about how people should prepare on an individual basis. While this was clearly not a manual on self-reliance or preparedness, the two examples of Preppers he gave were rich dilettantes. I think that as a warning to the general public this book fell short, and as a warning to people in power it's too softball. Still, it was far more readable than the book "One Second After", not too mention less right wing, and he highlights some interesting groups that are trying to put in place safety nets should something of the scale of massive power grid failures ever happen. Definitely worth reading.
This is the most in depth expose' of the total lack of preparedness across the board in civil and government agencies I have yet read. I have been following this subject for many years, and never has anyone done the hard work of going to the sources for information like Ted Kopel. All I can say is I hope people in places of responsibility listen.
Say something about yourself!
Journalists, Ted writes in this book, at some point must make a "gut check" as to whether or not they trust a source. Having grown up watching Ted on TV every night, I've come to trust both his reporting and journalistic instincts, as shown in his choice of topics to bring to our collective attention. It is with this trust in mind that I began this book, and it is a main reason that it truly frightened me.
"Lights Out" is a cautionary tale of the threats posed by a new technological age, not yet fully realized by the public or policy makers, and provides definite and far-reaching implications across all aspects of society. Not only does it challenge us to rethink the means by which we prepare (or do not prepare) for catastrophic events, it challenges us to rethink our basic relationship with the Internet, privacy, and government.
The book succeeds as a solid piece of journalism at alarming, informing, and posing numerous questions at the reader, in a digestible manner than never feels panicked, judging, or exaggerated.
Ted is a Leftist and his biases peek trough at time, but this is a well researched and very well written book. Ted does an outstanding job in the narration. I enjoyed this book much more than I expected. I even listen through the acknowledgments!
Just a warning. This is more of a documentary on the electric grid and how prepared the government and other groups are to deal with a wide-reaching disaster. Way too much detail about the Mormon church, IMHO, but it's good that someone in the mainstream media is bringing attention to the electric grid and preparedness in general.
Engineer, sailor, and prolific reader of non-fiction
Virtually everyone is familiar with Ted Koppel's sonorous voice; as a presenter of many television documentaries, and as the host of the long-running current affairs program 'Nightline', he is an icon of the television journalism genre.
Unfortunately, his style translates poorly into book form. The mix of prose and poetry which makes a one hour television program flow smoothly, becomes rather oppressive, when the attempt is made to translate into book format.
The subject matter is certainly interesting: it's the proposition that the United States is poorly prepared to withstand a cyber-attack against the nation's power grid. The first 20 minutes, or so, of the audiobook presentation is occupied with the potential consequences of a prolonged and widespread power outage. Unfortunately, this occupies only a small fraction of the book, and is only lightly explored, even though it becomes apparent that a severe, prolonged loss of power over a widespread area would indeed become catastrophic.
Koppel them explores, via interviews with various experts, the methodologies by which a cyber-attacker could possibly trigger such an event. The story is something of a counterpart to the tale of 'Stuxnet', the American/Israeli cyber-attack against Iran's uranium enrichment program, in which the PLC's (programmable logic controllers) of Iranian centrifuges were infected with a highly devious worm that caused damage long before the Iranians were aware of the vulnerability.
In the case of a potential cyber-attack against the power grid, the targets would be SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Aquisition) systems, which are a more sophisticated version of the PLC's used in the Iranian enrichment program. An attack of SCADA systems could, theoretically, result in widespread power outages and would include damage to equipment (most notably, 'super-transformers') which form the backbone of our power distribution grid.
As an electrical engineer, I am familiar with both PLC and SCADA systems, although Koppel does a credible job in explaining these devices and systems in language clear enough for the average reader.
However, his cautionary tale strikes me as a bit less than convincing. While the Stuxnet worm was a demonstration of the ability of clever firmware writers to inject damaging code into these systems without detection, the same paradigm might not apply to a system as widely diverse as the American electrical power grid. The Iranian situation was much different... a far more isolated environment in which the types of equipment used, and the manner in which they were interconnected, were constrained to just a small handful of sites. In fact, the Stuxnet attack was directed at just two types of PLC's, both manufactured by a single manufacturer (Siemens). The US power grid, on the other hand, is a broad, widespread, and highly diverse system, and of necessity, contains many safeguards against the kinds of events (such as overloads) that would jeopardize the system as a whole. The US system is also based on a very wide variety of devices, from many different manufacturers.
This is not to suggest that the US system is in any way invulnerable to cyber-attack; however, the Stuxnet experience probably resulted in a little-known but undoubtedly thorough review of cyber security among all US power companies.
The validity of the premise may be controversial, and I'm not discounting the premise entirely. However, the presentation of the material, Koppel's sonorous voice notwithstanding, left me less than either satisfied, or convinced.
The first 20 minutes I thought I was in for a treat, but the book quickly turns into a diatribe with statements and assumptions that are stated in a factual manner which are anything but...well facts. I have some involvement with NERC and it is not nearly as cavalier an organization as TK decrees time and time again.
and his solution to every problem he identifies...yup you guessed it...more government regulation. No real plan on how to address some of the legitimate concerns raised, just more regulation.
Say something about yourself!
I am not a Koppel fanboy. I look at him as part of the media elite. I also expected either a hatchet job aimed at preppers or a half baked ripoff aimed at post-apocalyptic fiction readers. What I found was a well researched, articulate, compelling argument for being prepared. Koppel has used his immense influence to gain access to people we could never hear from. He interviews true preparedness experts, policy makers, and disaster industry insiders. This book lays bare our national cyber vulnerabilities. It is a worthwhile read.
A much-needed examination of the dangers, context, politics of a catastrophic cyber attack on the U.S. electrical grid. The possible agents are numerous, motivated, and better equipped now than ever before to wreak havoc. I found myself taking these ideas as an opportunity to focus on what I can do, instead of waiting around for someone else to fix it.
We really enjoyed this book. I liked the level of detail he uses and the interviews added even more reality to the possible issues we could face.
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