Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with the Axios AM and PM newsletters. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to the Axios Closer newsletter for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios Pro Rata

Dive into the world of dealmakers across VC, PE and M&A with Axios Pro Rata. Delivered daily to your inbox by Dan Primack and Kia Kokalitcheva.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with the Axios Sports newsletter. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Des Moines newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Nashville news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Nashville newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Columbus news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Columbus newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Dallas news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Dallas newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Austin news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Austin newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Atlanta news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Atlanta newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Philadelphia news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Philadelphia newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Chicago news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Chicago newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios NW Arkansas

Stay up-to-date on the most important and interesting stories affecting NW Arkansas, authored by local reporters

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top DC news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios DC newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

In news stories, TV shows and at least one bestselling non-fiction book, you'll see warnings that hackers are coming to take out the U.S. electric grid, plunging the nation into democracy-ending darkness. An attack on that scale was even raised by leading intelligence officials in an Axios deep dive on global security threats.

Reality check: The people tasked with protecting U.S. electrical infrastructure say the scenario where hackers take down the entire grid — the one that's also the plot of the "Die Hard" movie where Bruce Willis blows up a helicopter by launching a car at it — is not a realistic threat. And focusing on the wrong problem means we’re not focusing on the right ones.

So, why can't you hack the grid? Here's one big reason: "The thing called the grid does not exist," said a Department of Homeland Security official involved in securing the U.S. power structure.

Think of the grid like the internet. We refer to the collective mess of servers, software, users and equipment that routes internet traffic as "the internet." The internet is a singular noun, but it’s not a singular thing.

  • You can’t hack the entire internet. There’s so much stuff running independently that all you can hack is individual pieces of the internet.
  • Similarly, the North American electric grid is actually five interconnected grids that can borrow electricity from each other. And the mini-grids aren't singular things either. Taking down "the grid" would be more like collapsing the thousands of companies that provide and distribute power accross the country.
  • "When someone talks about 'the grid,' it's usually a red flag they aren't going to know what they are talking about," says Sergio Caltagirone, director of threat intelligence at Dragos, a firm that specializes in industrial cybersecurity including the energy sector.

Redundancy and resilience: Every aspect of the electric system, from the machines in power plants to the grid as a whole, is designed with redundancy in mind. You can’t just break a thing or 10 and expect a prolonged blackout.

  • On some level, most people already know this. Everyone has lived through blackouts, but no one has lived through a blackout so big it caused the Purge.
  • 'The power system is the most complex machine ever made by humans," said Chris Sistrunk, principle consultant at FireEye in energy cybersecurity. "Setting it up, or hacking it, is more complicated than putting a man on the moon."
  • An attack that took out power to New York using cyber means would require a nearly prohibitive amount of effort to coordinate, said Lesley Carhart of Dragos. Such a failure would also tip off other regions that there was an attack afoot. Causing a power outage in New York would likely prevent a power outage in Chicago.

There are two real problems with getting this issue wrong:

  • Unnecessarily scaring people about the threat of terrorism is harmful in itself.
  • Setting the expectations too high for what an attack looks like can divert attention from more realistic and still pretty devastating attacks on the electric system and blunt the need to prepare for smaller attacks. "You run the risk of desensitizing people of the issue," said Mark Orlando, CTO of Raytheon's cybersecurity practice.

The real threat:

  • National attacks are unlikely. Small attacks matter more than you'd think.
  • "People can relate to their freezer stopping working. It's tough to relate to what would happen if oil refineries stopped working," said Mike Spear, global operations director for industrial cyber security at Honeywell.
  • An industrial plant that lost power by hacking nearby plants and onsight generators, for example, could lose as much as $50,000 a minute. Spears' oil refinery example would not only lose more money, but also impact anyone who drove a car.
  • Harming Cleveland's economy is less exciting than a nationwide blackout, but it still matters.

What about Russia? Periodically, news stories will cover the Russian malware implanted in industrial networks. One story cautioned that Russia had its "fingers on the switch."

  • It's no small task to get into industrial networks — most attacks at plants are limited to business networks.
  • But Russia's aim in hacking electric networks does not appear to be an imminent attack. Rather, experts agree, it's likely a reconnaissance mission for potential future actions.
  • While the threat here is real, an actual attack is more speculative than is sometimes portrayed.
  • Russia is the likely culprit behind the only two cyber-related blackouts in history, both launched against the Ukraine. But cybersecurity experts see no evidence that Russia is capable of more than localized attacks.

Go deeper

Updated 6 hours ago - World

UK government: Kremlin has plan "to install pro-Russian leadership" in Ukraine

British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss. Photo: Gints Ivuskans / AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary on Saturday night said the government has "information that indicates the Russian Government is looking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv as it considers whether to invade and occupy Ukraine."

Driving the news: U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne called the intelligence "deeply concerning" in a statement to Axios. The Biden administration has said Russia is actively manufacturing a pretext for invasion and warned that Putin could use joint military exercises in Belarus as cover to invade from the north.

Updated 7 hours ago - Science

This powerful new accelerator looks for keys to the center of atoms

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Nuclear physicists trying to piece together how atoms are built are about to get a powerful new tool.

Why it matters: When the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams begins experiments later this spring, physicists from around the world will use the particle accelerator to better understand the inner workings of atoms that make up all the matter that can be seen in the universe.

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: FDA OKs antiviral drug remdesivir for non-hospitalized COVID patients — Walensky: CDC language "pivoting" on "fully vaccinated" — Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Teens and adults missed 37 million vaccinations during COVID — Team USA 100% vaccinated against COVID ahead of Beijing Olympics — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America — Annual COVID vaccine preferable to boosters, says Pfizer CEO.
  3. Politics: Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates — Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults — Beijing officials urge COVID-19 "emergency mode" before Winter Olympics.
  5. Variant tracker