The US Department of Homeland Security is preparing for a potentially catastrophic attack on the nation’s electric power gird and is setting up up a “cybersecurity committee” to coordinate efforts to protect power plants and the grid from a digital attack.
The committee will draw up a plan for dealing with such an attack and make recommendations for improving cybersecurity within the power grid, according to The Hill. A notice about the committee’s creation was posted in the Federal Register.
Some have warned a cyberattack essentially could be a “cyber Pearl Harbor,” whereby a hacker or rogue nation takes down the power grid for weeks. The threat increases each year as the grid becomes more and more connected to the Internet.
Last year NSA Director Michael Rogers told the House Intelligence Committee that cybersecurity was a big concern.
“There shouldn’t be any doubt in our minds that there are nation-states and groups out there that have the capability . . . to shut down, forestall our ability to operate our basic infrastructure, whether it’s generating power across this nation, whether it’s moving water and fuel,” he said. “Those tend to be the biggest focus areas that we have seen.”
Rogers added that in addition to China, “one or two” other countries have succeeded in penetrating the US power grid in the past.
“I fully expect that during my time as a commander, we are going to be tasked with defending critical infrastructure in the United States,” he said. “It’s only a matter of the when, not the if, that we’re going to see something dramatic. . . . I bet it happens before 2025.”
Forbes contributor and security expert Loren Thompson, the former deputy director of security studies at Georgetown University, wrote in an August column that “a big attack is coming.”
“The intelligence community has noted a rising incidence of assaults on the industrial control mechanisms used to operate the grid, more and more of which are linked in some fashion to the internet,” Thompson wrote.
Hackers “understand that if you take down the grid, every other network that matters will collapse with it,” Thompson said.
“The Department of Homeland Security identifies 16 ‘critical infrastructures’ supporting the U.S. economy, but the electric grid is the most basic — everything else from medicine to finance to transportation depends on it,” Thompson wrote. “Thus, it is the most ‘lucrative’ target for hackers seeking to achieve devastating effects.”
Further, Thompson wrote, new technologies that are intended to improve the grid’s efficiency can end up making it more vulnerable to attack.
“As in other industries, the increasing use of mobile devices by utility managers and the shift to cloud computing could create new avenues for cyber exploits,” he wrote. “With so many internet-connected innovations being introduced across a decentralized network and diverse workforce, it is nearly impossible to enforce the kind of consistent security standards that would minimize danger from cyber attacks.”
It looks as if the grid is even more vulnerable to attack than we thought.
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