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December 17, 2003

Blackout Retrospective

I mentioned just after NYC went dark and I started sleuthing that there was a reasonable possibility that computer failure was at the heart of the problem. Bruce Schneier is looking closer and here's what he thinks.

The chain of events began at FirstEnergy, a power company in Ohio. There, a series of human and computer failures turned a small problem into a major one. And because critical alarm systems failed, workers at FirstEnergy did not stop the cascade because they did not know what was happening.

This is where I think Blaster may have been involved. The report gives a specific timeline for the failures. At 14:14 EDT, the "alarm and logging software" at FirstEnergy's control room failed. This alarm software "provided audible and visual indications when a significant piece of equipment changed from an acceptable to problematic condition." Of course, no one knew that it failed.

Six minutes later, "several" remote control consoles failed. At 14:41, the primary server computer that hosted the alarm function failed. Its functions were passed to a backup computer, which failed at 14:54.

Doesn't this sound like a computer worm wending its way through FirstEnergy's operational computers?

His speculation is backed up by some pretty unusual coincidences, such as the fact that FirstEnergy has been hit before by Slammer and the time that these alarm servers were failing was exactly the same time Blaster was knocking out machines nationwide.

I gave Gent the benefit of the doubt...

Posted by mbowen at December 17, 2003 11:15 PM

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