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I'm writing a spy story of sorts and I demand realism in my writing. In one of the chapters an agent, working with remote hacking assistance, enters a datacenter to steal digital certificates. When armed police arrive to storm the place and enter the building the remote hackers hack external electrical systems supplying the datacenter with power and send a surge of electrical energy through the datacenter's electrical wiring, creating an EMP throughout the datacenter which knocks out the police's electronic equipment. I was just wondering if this is realistic.

Questions...

  1. Could the average datacenter's electrical wiring carry enough current to create an EMP?

  2. Would circuit breakers or fuses preclude the surge's EMP effects?

  3. Would the electrical power surge damage the electrical wiring and electronic devices commonly found in an average datacenter?

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Interesting concept. I don't know how familiar you are with electrical engineering, so forgive me for perhaps being too simplified. I have been told (anecdotal) that modern systems are much more resilient against actual EMPs because of the smaller sizes internally.

I would imagine that the average datacenter has extensive surge protection (to survive things like lightning).

In addition, I would imagine that Police forces have gear that is resilient against such attacks, precisely to avoid being vulnerable to this type of attack.

Now as to your questions:

Could the average datacenter electrical wiring carry enough current to create an EMP?

The current carrying capacity is not what matters here. In order to generate an EMP, you need to be able to create a sudden surge/pulse of massive size. Every circuit has a certain inductance - the inductance is a measure of how much a circuit resists sudden changes in current. This inductance is what could prevent this from working.

Would circuit breakers or fuses preclude the surge's EMP effects?

A datacenter would have surge arrestors to prevent surges damaging their equipment. They do this to protect against sudden spikes in the network due to faults, lighting, etc.

Would the electrical power surge damage the electrical wiring and electronic devices commonly found in an average datacenter?

Without protection, indeed they would be damaged. However, as already mentioned, datacenters have to be able to take direct lightning strikes without issue. If they can take that without being absolutely destroyed, I doubt anything short of a nuclear EMP would be able to damage them. Same holds for the police equipment - their stuff should be able to handle such surges as they would have to function after an attack or disaster that causes an EMP.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ From wikipedia... "Surge arresters only protect against induced transients characteristic of a lightning discharge's rapid rise-time and will not protect against electrification caused by a direct strike to the conductor." \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Mucci Oct 27 '18 at 12:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ As an aside Steve, what if your hackers brought in their own EMP device, to connect to the building power? Such a thing is not very realistic physically, but perhaps it could pass in a fictional narrative. \$\endgroup\$ – rdtsc Oct 27 '18 at 14:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @rdtsc They only use spy gadgets, though perhaps a backpack-based device would work. I'll consider this, thank you! \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Mucci Oct 27 '18 at 17:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JorenVaes Could the agent physically disable the surge arrestors/protectors? \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Mucci Oct 27 '18 at 17:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ A 1 watt jammer in a flower-pot left outside the datacenter will jam the police radios. The police can still transmit, but their receivers will be overloaded and useless. \$\endgroup\$ – analogsystemsrf Oct 28 '18 at 3:04

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