Ultimately, Koppel’s latest work is one in a growing number of cautionary volumes that warn of the dangers of increasing reliance on exploitable, Internet-connected technology. These arguments undoubtedly have plenty of merit; experts unanimously agree that security measures in this arena have often been an afterthought rather than a primary concern. But Koppel’s choice to focus on power-grid cyberattacks is almost certainly more of a dramatic consideration than a practical one, more a critique of Washington policymaking than an engagement with substantive cybersecurity issues.
And while questions remain over the validity of its premise, Lights Out effectively critiques America’s apathy toward disaster preparation, as well as the perpetually reactive public policy process. Those familiar with the process will recognize Koppel’s primary intended audience (Washington) and the policy prescriptions contained therein. But they will also close the book with a deep skepticism in its ability to effect any meaningful change.
As retired NSA Director Keith Alexander observes of one of the key policies Koppel advocates in the book, creating a complete cybersecurity system for the entire electrical grid: “Half of the Congress will say why we should do it, and the other half will say why we shouldn’t do it. And then they’ll argue it, and they have no tactical understanding, most of them, about what they’re arguing. Unless there’s a true crisis, we’re going to move [slowly].”
Kevin Reagan is a Resident Junior Fellow at the Center for the National Interest.
Image: Flickr/Dan Nguyen.