Electromagnetic Pulse weapons could knock enterprises offline

electrical grid
Tony Webster (Creative Commons BY or BY-SA)

Electromagnetic Pulse are back in the news as potential threats to the U.S. and other nations as the U.S. and China have announced significant progress in advancing the state of the art of these attacks. Nations, enterprises, and individual buildings and installations, which count on electric power and everything that it enables are at risk of being devastated by EMPs.

According to EMP Cover, EMP attacks move through the air in a manner similar to radio waves with electronics acting as antennas, receiving the waves; the EMP attacks overwhelm the electronics with up to 50K volts, burning them out. EMP attacks have historically been possible only as a bi-product of a nuclear attack or an intended cause of a large scale missile attack approximately 250 miles above the Earth’s atmosphere, according to T. Casey Fleming, CEO, BLACKOPS Partners, a special operations firm teaming America’s top experts from the critical disciplines required in defending U.S. companies against economic espionage.

China’s advancements are in improved large-scale EMP attacks using long-range missiles such as their new DF41 mobile ICBM launchers, which have longer range than their DF31s, according to a report from The Blaze.

The U.S. won’t be left behind in EMP deployments. “EMP attacks have become more defined and developed. The technology is now more portable. It has become public information that the U.S. Air Force has enabled the technology on a drone. They can actually surgically target a building with it,” says Fleming. The intent is taking out electronics for the entire building.

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According to reports carried by several news outlets including The Daily Mail, the U.S. Air Force and Boeing have developed a missile-based microwave EMP weapon that is mounted on and fired from drones. The reports confirm that the U.S. Air Force has the technology in its “tactical air force” today.

This video below report relates details of recently successful tests of the weapon.

A report from the Motley Fool confirms the involvement of Raytheon in creating the actual EMP technology and Lockheed-Martin as the probable purveyor of the missile technology, i.e., the JASSM-ER missile that will carry the EMP payload.

EMP threats to the enterprise

As the world economy becomes increasingly dependent on electricity, circuit boards, computer circuit boards, and other electronically powered devices, services, and infrastructure, the Chinese research and development of EMP attack capabilities is directed as a front line item toward disabling the first line of defense of an opponent, according to Fleming.

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The effect would be that the enterprise would be immediately shutdown and become inoperable. “Anything to do with circuit boards and electronic technology would be blown out unless it is hardened,” says Fleming. Hardened electronics require features such as heavy wiring and additional capacitors to withstand the EMPs and absorb the energy enough to at least come back up after the attack. Since to date EMP attacks have been highly unlikely, such expensive electronics hardening is extremely uncommon even though the impact of an EMP attack would be severe.

The nation’s defenses are secure. NORAD has taken preventive measures to protect its technology. “The measurements at the Nevada Test Site during the last of the surface nuclear tests and the subsequent work to protect the NORAD Cheyenne mountain site ensures that EMP effects will not disable NORAD,” says Peter M. Livingston, president, The Alembic Group and an expert in early U.S. government EMP technology experiments.

T. Casey Fleming, CEO, BLACKOPS Partners

NORAD’s preparation doesn’t do anything to directly shield the enterprise in the event of a successful EMP attack. “There’s not much the enterprise can do because there will always be weak links in the system,” says Fleming. A large scale EMP attack would disable the public electric utilities and infrastructure so that the enterprise would lose power in addition to the damage those EMPs would directly inflict on an organization.

The use of missile-based EMP attacks such as from the Chinese would have to be an act of war on a national scale. Any less and the U.S. would still have the power to retaliate and dismantle the aggressor using nuclear warfare. “It must be clear to the enemy who would be risking all our nuclear retaliation that their strike must be fatal,” says Livingston.

BC/DR planning for EMPs

EMP attacks are not likely enough for the enterprise to do anything about them, and if the attacks were more likely, the level of preparation required is so far beyond the financial scope of the enterprise that the investment is impractical.

If successful, the very first attack would disable servers, cause wide spread data loss and the inability to transact business through technology, crippling an economy, says Fleming. “It would also take out water supply, utilities, financial trading floors and banks, and send a country back into the Dark Ages in a matter of an hour,” says Fleming.

“It’s my opinion that this replaces nuclear attacks. It has wider coverage, it is much more effective, and it doesn’t hurt people otherwise,” says Fleming. A foreign actor using an EMP attack could invade the country soon after without the fear of nuclear radiation.

The best defense is a good offense mingled with hope. The U.S. continues to develop good offensive and defensive measures such as its own EMP weapons to defend our nation and its assets, including enterprise assets. NORAD would be aware of a large scale attack in time to act, according to Livingston.

Since the enterprise can’t really prepare for an EMP attack, the only additional comfort is the hope that history is a good indicator of the likelihood (or lack thereof) of an actual large scale EMP attack. Large scale EMP attacks haven’t happened yet. And as the potential for nuclear war is more a matter of deterrents and a balance of power than of actualities, hopefully large scale EMP attacks will prove to be no more than the same.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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