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White House Simulates Cyberattack on New York City

What would happen to New York City if its power grid was hit by an all-out cyberattack during a summer heat wave?

A group of senators found out Wednesday evening during a White House simulation intended to convince Congress to give the government more control over critical privately owned computer systems’ cybersecurity standards.

According to the White House, the scenario was classified, so we don’t know exactly how bad the results would be. But at least one senator, Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va), said the simulation was “convincing.”

“[The simulation] illustrated just how dangerous inaction on cybersecurity legislation can be,” said Rockefeller. “I think several of my colleagues were convinced that immediate action is required.”

All 100 senators were invited to the event, but only about about a quarter of them showed up, according to a Senate aide’s comments to The Hill.

“The classified scenario was intended to provide all Senators with an appreciation for new legislative authorities that could help the U.S. Government prevent and more quickly respond to cyber attacks,” said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council.

During President Obama’s most recent State of the Union address, he called for Congress to pass legislation “that will secure our country from the growing danger of cyber threats.”

The Senate is currently belaboring two competing cybersecurity bills: one that gives the federal government the authority to regulate cybersecurity standards for private companies, and another that does not. Both bills would encourage information-sharing between business and government and require the government to beef up their own cyberdefense.

What might a cyberattack-caused blackout in New York City look like?

In 2003, a widespread power outage effected a great deal of Canada and the northeastern U.S., Manhattan included. Approximately 14.3 million New Yorkers lost power. Two died of carbon monoxide poisoning and another two perished in fires caused by candles.

One died after falling from a roof while attempting to loot a shop and another succumbed to a heart attack after climbing 17 stories to a neighbor’s apartment. Forty thousand New York Police Department officers and all of the 15,000-strong New York Fire Department were called in to assist.

Would the results of a cyberattack on the city’s power grid be similar? Hopefully, we’ll never have to find out.

Do you think New York City is prepared for an all-out cyberattack? Sound off in the comments below