Electrical Grid Cybersecurity Measure AdvancesProposed Legislation Calls for Development of National Strategy
A proposal that won U.S. House approval Wednesday calls for crafting a strategy for securing the nation’s electrical grid. It also would create a two-year pilot program within the U.S. Energy Department's National Laboratory to identify vulnerabilities within the grid.
That bipartisan proposal was added to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the House Wednesday by a vote of 377 to 48.
The final version of the $738 billion defense spending bill, as amended, is expected to pass in the Senate, and President Donald Trump has signaled that he plans to sign the legislation, according to Politico.
While the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act is getting attention for establishing Space Force as the newest branch of the U.S. military, it now also includes the Securing Energy Infrastructure Act as a step toward helping bolster the security of the nation's electrical grid, which has become an increasing security concern over the last year (see: GAO Raises Concerns About Power Grid Vulnerabilities).
In addition to creating a two-year pilot program, the measure would create a working group, comprising federal government agencies, state and regional offices responsible for securing the grid locally, and members of the energy industry, to craft a national strategy for securing the electrical grid.
The measure would require the secretary of energy to issue a report to Congress on the pilot program and the working group’s recommendations.
"The energy grid powers our financial transactions, communications networks, healthcare services and most of our daily life - so if this critical infrastructure is compromised by a hacker, these building blocks of American life are at risk," says Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who co-authored the original legislation earlier this year with Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho. A similar bill was also introduced in the House.
Concerns Over the Grid
Earlier this year, the North American Electric Reliability Corp., a non-profit organization that develops and enforces standards for U.S. power and utility companies, published a report that documented an attempted hack against a utility.
Investigators found that intruders had probed weaknesses in the network firewalls of an unnamed U.S. power utility in an attempted distributed denial-of-service attack, although there was no disruption in electricity service as a result of the incident (see: Hackers Attempted DDoS Attack Against Utility: Report).
Following that report, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued its own study in September that found the U.S. electrical grid is growing increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks from countries such as Russia. That report also noted that industrial control systems, which help power plants and utilities properly function, are now more vulnerable to attack because of the addition of remote access features.
While security analysts have raised concerns about the American power grid, the U.S. government is also reportedly looking for vulnerabilities in other nations' infrastructure as well. In July, the New York Times reported that the Trump administration was stepping up its own incursions into Russian's electrical grid, using sophisticated cyber tools to probe for vulnerabilities.
Critical Times for Infrastructure
The National Infrastructure Advisory Council recently published a draft report concerning cyberthreats to the nation's critical infrastructure, according to The Hill.
The council pointed to the need for more sharing of classified information among the agencies responsible for the security of power grids and other utilities.
Plus, the Council on Foreign Relations has published a report that finds that the threat to critical infrastructure from nation-state attackers continues to grow.
Following the Stuxnet attack that targeted centrifuges in Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment facility, which was thought to have been a joint operation of the U.S. and Israel, other nations are now experimenting with their own malware that targets critical infrastructure, according to the new report.
"The threat has increased because of two trends," writes Connor Fairman, a research associate with the Council of Foreign Relations. "First, hackers continuously develop more advanced tools, such as Triton, new malware designed to shut down safety controllers and cause physical damage to critical infrastructure. Second, digitization and the introduction of the internet to systems that predated it has introduced new vulnerabilities."