From banks to hospitals to the systems that keep the juice flowing to our homes, we are almost entirely dependent on tech. We look at the effect of the five worst 'tech doomsday' scenarios, such as the entire net collapsing, would have on our lives.
What could happen: Like the grid itself, other failures tend to cascade when the lights go out.
In the 2003 incident in the US, landline and mobile phone systems still worked but were so overloaded with calls that they effectively shut down.
Electric railways stopped in their tracks, flights were cancelled, and gas pumps would no longer pump.
Water supplies that relied on electric filtering systems got contaminated.
Food and medicine got spoiled; looting occurred; people died.
On the positive side, residents of large cities were able to see the stars for possibly the first time in their lives.
How long would it take to recover: From hours to days, depending on how many generators have been affected and how long it takes to restart them, says Sills.
Nuclear facilities can take several days, gas- and coal-fired generators require around 24 hours, but plants that use hydroelectric power may be able to get back online almost immediately.
If an adjacent grid is still operating, the dark one may also be able to tap into its reserves.
Likelihood: Low. However, while a country-wide or even global blackout is unlikely, regional blackouts are well within the grasp of knowledgeable attackers.
How to avoid this: The technology to secure the power grid is readily available.
For example, in the US, Sills says his firm has installed protective measures for a utility serving a major metro area, but declined to name it, lest it become a target.
However, public utilities are reluctant to invest in costly retrofits until their solution gets approved.
NEXT PAGE: Wall Street gets e-bombed
- We look at the likelihood of these doomsday scenarios
- Britain goes dark
- What could happen
- Wall Street gets e-bombed
- How long would it take Wall Street to recover?
- Google is gone
- What could happen if Google goes down
- The net goes down
- What effect would the net going down have on us?
- God strikes back
- Could we recover from an act of God?