According to testimony at a Senate committee hearing on August 5, the federal government should have the authority to simulate cyberattacks on the electric grid to lessen the nation’s vulnerability. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said, “The threat of cyberattacks by foreign adversaries and other sophisticated entities is real, and it’s growing.”

Citing 2019’s Worldwide Threat Assessment from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Murkowski explained those findings stating that China, Russia, and other foreign adversaries are stepping up cyber operations to target the United States’ military and critical infrastructure, including the nation’s electric grid. The Energy Department claimed that a Russian government-backed hacking group infiltrated a U.S. energy entity’s network in January 2020.

The energy sector’s vulnerabilities are of particular concern to national security since electricity and fuels are used to power transportation, water facilities, hospitals, communications, and more. The gap between physical, operational technology, and information technology systems is narrowing, creating even more concern. Grid operators incorporate new management systems, utility companies install millions of “smart meters” and other internet-enabled devices on the grid. Advancements in technology lead to improved operations and real-time feedback, however, malicious hackers can target these systems to gain access and compromise larger systems.

Murkowski said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has created a unique opportunity for cybercriminals to attack our networks, including critical energy infrastructure. We all know the stakes here. A successful hack could shut down power, impacting hospitals, banks, gas pumps, military installations, and cell phone service. The consequences would be widespread and devastating, and only more so if we are in the midst of a global pandemic.”

Red-teaming is a simulation using hackers to test various organizations’ cybersecurity and threat response. The result provides an outside perspective and has been performed in the past. In July, the Office of Energy Infrastructure Security (OEIS) joined with the National Guard and conducted Cyber Yankee, a red-team-simulated cyber-attack on a utility system throughout the New England states. This exercise was beneficial for professionals to thwart potential incoming threats by creating defensive and recovery plans.

Check out this article by the National Conference of State Legislatures for more information about the nation’s energy infrastructure and the growing cyberthreat.

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