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Cost of a Potential Blackout From Cyber Crime: $1 Trillion

A new report from Lloyd's puts a dollar figure on a possible cyber attack on the power grid.

Menna / Shutterstock

Thus far, it looks as though the strange string of computer snafus this morning — at the New York Stock Exchange, United Airlines and the Wall Street Journal’s website — were the result of coincidental tech glitches, not a malicious cyber attack.

But the U.S. remains vulnerable to wide-scale digital crimes, a new report out today argues. And they would be costly.

Lloyd’s, a specialist insurance market, partnered with the Centre for Risk Studies at the University of Cambridge to calculate the potential economic damage of cyber crime that targets the national power grid.

Under one scenario, an attack — orchestrated, the report suggests, by terrorists, “hacktivists” (like, say, Anonymous) or maybe “disgruntled insiders” — that knocks out 50 of the almost 700 generators serving the northeastern U.S. and causes a blackout of around four days would lead to $243 billion in immediate and tangential economic loss. The worst case scenario, hitting twice as many generators for four days, could wipe out more than $1 trillion from the U.S. economy, around 6 percent of GDP.

Last year, the national cyber crime watchdog, the Industrial Control System Cyber Emergency Response Team, reported that a third of its responses to cyber threats came in the energy sector.

“This scenario shows the huge impact and havoc that could result from a major cyber attack on the U.S.,” Tom Bolt, Lloyd’s director of performance management, said in a statement. “The reality is that the modern, digital and interconnected world creates the conditions for significant damage, and we know there are hostile actors with the skills and desire to cause harm.”

Mind you, Lloyd’s is in the business of insurance, a business that stands to grow from alarm over such a catastrophic cyber attack. The report estimates that the overall insurance industry stands to lose upward of $71 billion should the worst potential attack take place.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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