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February 9, 2023by Brad Liggett

The night the lights went out at the Super Bowl: A decade later

With the news coming out of Baltimore today, I thought about the big weekend coming up. This weekend will be the annual meeting between two of the NFL's best teams. More about the events in Baltimore. Let's take a brief walk down memory lane.

Ten years ago, the lights and scoreboard inexplicably went out at the Superdome in New Orleans during Super Bowl XLVII. The blackout came just after halftime, minutes into the 3rd quarter. Then, the lights were off, and the game paused for thirty-four minutes. Even twelve years after 9/11, we were thinking through what terrorist organizations. Who was responsible, and was this just the opening salvo for something bigger?

Thankfully, those 34 minutes ticked by quickly, and the game resumed as if nothing had happened. Unfortunately, the Baltimore Ravens would hand on to defeat the San Francisco 49ers. While watching that game with friends who were fellow network engineers for a regional telecommunications company, we immediately started theorizing about the cause. Most of us immediately stuck on how those with evil intentions could exploit the event.

Which brings us back to the recent news out of the city of Baltimore. Federal authorities intervened and stopped a potential attack on Baltimore's power grid, which was described as a case of "domestic terrorism". A Florida man and a Maryland woman have been charged in the scheme to attack multiple substations throughout the Baltimore area, in what they were hoping would have a cascading effect across the region that would "permanently completely lay this city to waste."

Critical infrastructure, especially during significant events, has long been a topic for defenders and criminals. However, over the last several months, numerous reports have been about potential power grid threats. This includes many vulnerable sub-stations throughout the nation's cities. While most power generation facilities are well-guarded and protected, many substations still lack proper defense mechanisms.

Protecting a sporting event that draws the eyes of millions around the globe takes a massive effort. However, having threat intelligence that feeds into these programs is one of many sources at the disposal of league officials and the Department of Homeland Security. The program is, in a word: stunning. It involves at least a dozen federal agencies and state and local authorities. These authorities tap into their vast collection capabilities, including deep and dark web intelligence.

When it was all said and done, the cause of the outage at Super Bowl XLVII was simply a faulty power relay sitting outside the Superdome.

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