Fort Bragg is the U.S. Army's largest base, and one of the world's largest military installations. It spans 500 square miles of land in North Carolina, and has a total population of about 260,000, of which 53,000 are active-duty personnel. Nearly 10 percent of all Army forces are assigned to Fort Bragg. So, when an unexpected power outage affected the entire base last week for roughly 12 hours, the local population was understandably concerned. We now know the cause of the outage — it was a test to gauge the base's vulnerability to a cyberattack on the power grid.
Power reportedly went out in the late evening on April 24th, and returned gradually in the afternoon the following day. The Army issued a public apology on the official Fort Bragg Facebook page, stating, “We understand the exercise conducted caused concern for many within our community and surrounding areas.” The post also explained that the intent of this unannounced drill was to “determine the readiness and resiliency of the installation in a real-world scenario.”
If you've been reading our publications for the past few months, you'll know that experts have attested the potential for a cyberattack to create regional grid-down situations with far-reaching consequences. The President's National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC) recently published a report that doesn't mince words about the serious threat of an attack on the power grid. The report states, “We found that existing national plans, response resources, and coordination strategies would be outmatched by a catastrophic power outage. This profound risk requires a new national focus.”
Given what we know about this drill, it appears that Fort Bragg's leadership shares this sentiment, and is working to prepare its facilities and personnel accordingly. The previously-mentioned Facebook post stated that the test's “objectives have been met.” Army officials offered more detail in an interview with the Charlotte Observer:
“This exercise was not announced in order to replicate likely real-world reactions by everyone directly associated with the installation. In today’s world, cyber-attacks are very likely. This exercise is exactly what we needed to do to identify our vulnerabilities and work to improve our security and deployment posture.”
For more details on the drill at Fort Bragg, check out this article from The Verge. For real-world evidence of the consequences of a targeted cyberattack, see our article on the Petya malware and its affects on the Ukraine.