Cyber-allied Blackouts: another SA looming nightmare?

A cyber-related blackout is a looming possibility. If not addressed seriously, the SA reality can turn into nightmares for years to come.

The Fin24 portal reported that Eskom will implement Stage 4 load shedding from 12:00 on Saturday, 16 March. Earlier on Saturday morning, the power utility said it would be implementing Stage 2 load shedding from 08:00 to 23:00 due to a shortage of capacity and a loss of additional generating units. The situation remains tight and volatile and we may have to implement further load shedding should the situation deteriorate,” Eskom said in a statement.

The costs to our economy have already reached billions of Rand. Are we going to stages 5, 6, 7? In fact, yes. Fin24 has just announced that Eskom and government plan for stages 5 and 6 loads shedding to stave off national blackouts.

Can the blackout issue get better? It seems, at the contrary. If not addressed properly and holistically, the matter can easily get out of hands – it can turn into the nightmares. 

By holistically we mean that it will not suffice to only address issues such as the coal supply, building new capacities or the maintenance of ageing infrastructure. A while ago, we have cautioned our government and the wider public that the critical infrastructure must be protected against ever-growing cyber-attacks.

If the trend continues – and all signs show that it will – cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure will soon become bloodcurdling nightmares for many countries. And South Africa ranks as one of the top ten most vulnerable countries to cyber attacks in the entire world!

The cyber attack on the Ukrainian power grid in 2015 and 2016 left hundreds of thousands of people without electricity for hours. In December 2017, another successful cyber-attack against the Ukrainian power grid caused power outages that impacted over 200,000 people.

A very recent power outrage in Venezuela, also caused by successful cyber attacks, left in the dark millions of people. It affected the electricity sector in Venezuela in most of its 23 states, causing serious problems in hospitals and clinics, industry, transport and water service. The Venezuelans needed five days to only partially restore the power supply.

Despite having some cybersecurity acts in place, there are no signs that the SA infrastructure is cyber-protected aptly. There seems not even to be many activities in this area. Or there might be some measures have taken place but it is unknown to the wider public. If so, it should be announced and made us aware that protecting our critical infrastructure is not only the government’s responsibility but all of us. However, the government cannot be abolished of the leading responsibilities.

It seems thou that our governing and other political parties are currently much more concerned with winning the forthcoming elections than in protecting the country against current and looming threats. If not serious and holistic actions are taken, whoever wins the elections risks of governing the even more tumbledown country.

It is inevitably time to act decisively. As an old Chinese proverb says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now”.

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