| by Shawn D. Stewart | No comments

Horror Stories – No Electricity

OR Pitch Black

Electricity is like oxygen. You don’t think about it until you aren’t getting any. Sure, you have surge protectors, lightning arrestors, and uninterrupted power supplies, but that only keeps you going for the short term. Ask Montreal or New York what it was like to have NO electricity, at all, in the house or in the streets. How long could your business survive? What about your family?

Uninterrupted Power Supplies – Every computer should have a UPS. Not the guys in the brown shorts, the battery back-ups that keep your computers and networks running when the power goes out. You notice I said, “when”, not “if”. Review the documentation. These are only meant to be temporary. Most UPS units last only five minutes and even the multi-battery beasts fade in an hour.

Generators – Not the company that skimps on power redundancy, you say? You went out and added the diesel-engine or natural gas generator because you thought ahead. You remember the last outage and it was a whopper! Backups failed in midstream, corrupting disks and tapes. When your power fails, the generators kick on automatically and they can last days. However, even they will run out of juice, even when connected to utility natural gas.

Internet Carriers Don’t Care – You wouldn’t know if your UPS or generator was still on because your Internet carrier does NOT maintain long-life power across their equipment. Imagine spending all that money to keep power going in your office only to lose Internet connectivity after 30 minutes. Be sure your carrier contract includes power to their Central Office (CO) as part of the Service Level Agreement (SLA). Don’t let them sweep it under the rug of an “Act of God” or, the attorney’s favorite, “force majeure”, meaning, “it’s out of our hands”.

Data Centers and Co-Locations – The cost to house equipment with a Cloud provider or central data center is inexpensive considering they offer environmental protections. Constant, clean power is high on the list, and they employ both UPS and generators to keep the power flowing for days, even weeks. Top-rated data centers include a local water and food supply to keep the staff safely protected inside for 30 days.

Wait, Why 30 Days? – OK, deep breath. Don’t want to scare you. Federal disaster planning dictates a couple of “scenarios” for data protection. The first is all off-site backups must be 25 straight-line miles away from a major city…to prevent data loss in the event of a nuclear, biological, or electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack. Now, I’m not telling you to plan for something this extreme. After all, if this happens, the last thing you’ll be concerned about is data. But the data centers will be the strongholds (if they survive) when things return to normal.

The Sun Is Not Your Friend – However, this isn’t my primary concern. Yes, EMPs, nuclear attacks, biological weapons, all bad. But what will we do when, not if, the sun spanks us with a major flare, called a coronal mass ejection (CME). The largest flare on record was an X20, on April 2, 2001. Fortunately, the CME went away from Earth. A much smaller flare on March 6, 1989, took the power out in Canada.

The Big One – I say “when” because history tells us this has happened before. In 1858, the Carrington Event sent what is believed to be an X45 level flare. At the time, the most extensive technology was the telegraph. The flare was so intense, even after the machines were unplugged, they caught fire, along with the telegraph wires. Look around. Consider how many wires and integrated circuits are around you. Now, imagine them all on fire!

What About Earth’s Shield? – The National Academy of Sciences believes a flare like this could literally knock society back to the stone age with every electronic device fried. Satellites, GPS, the Internet, cell communications, and power grids all gone. And now the really bad news. Earth’s magnetic field protects us from most CMEs. However, Earth’s magnetic field lost 10% from 1800 to 2000. Then it started losing 5% per decade. Currently, the Earth’s magnetic field strength is believed to be down 20% since the 1859 Carrington Event. What does that mean? A strong flare from the sun could collapse the magnetic field.

How Do I Plan For THAT? – Plan to shut your operation down when the power goes out for more than an hour. Make it part of your Emergency or Incident Response plan. People are always the top priority, so spend the money on the technology that performs the shutdowns automatically. Next, ensure all backups are offsite in a shielded, faraday cage. The grounded faraday cage, surrounded by substantial concrete and steel, is the only hypothesized way to protect against a major solar flare. These data storage facilities exist today!

I could talk on this subject for days. It can be frightening, but every business, home, family, and individual should have an emergency plan with emergency supplies. I’m not a prepper, but even California tells its residents to keep food, water, clothing, and medical supplies to last for 72 hours. The more you learn, the more your plan encompasses. A tin foil hat and a government grant won’t save us, but prior proper planning and testing your plan will. Protect yourself.

Want to see an article on a specific subject? Need help? Reach out. We are all in this together.

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Shawn D. Stewart

Mr. Stewart has 25 years of experience with hundreds of international, commercial, military, and government IT projects. He holds or has held certifications with ISC2, Cisco, Microsoft, CompTIA, ITIL, Novell and others. He also holds a BS in IT, a Minor in Professional Writing and is a published author. He is scheduled to complete his Masters in Cybersecurity in August 2021.

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