Senate To Probe Growing Cybersecurity Threats: Is Energy Infrastructure Safe?

Credit: Rich Pedroncelli/AP.
Electrical power flow and conditions are monitored at the Pacific Gas and Electric grid control center on 17 August 2017 in Vacaville, Calif.

Today’s world is full of potential threats as news of cyber-related hacks and crimes have become near nonstop occurrences. While most of the news has concentrated on business, banking, and consumer activities, domestic infrastructure may also be a tempting target for some foreign governments, criminals, and terrorist groups.

The full Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee recently held a hearing to examine how gas and electric gets delivered, the infrastructure available, and what needs to be done to increase supply/delivery. The discussion was to look at the policy issues for securing power grids from cyber- or physical attacks. 

The hearing comes on the heels of a draft memo leaked in June from the Department of Energy suggesting that “growing threats, including cyberattacks” to “the energy sector” were possible. The Energy Department is not alone; grid security has become a regular topic for academics and public policy analysts around the beltway for some time.

Recognizing the importance of cybersecurity’s role in the reliability of the nation’s critical energy infrastructure is of utmost importance, something many companies have already acknowledged. Hardening facilities against physical intrusion, providing barriers to electronic entry, and early detection and monitoring are all at the forefront.

Dave Venable, vice president of cybersecurity at the global communications and security services provider Masergy, said that he’s seen numerous cases of both state and nonstate actors targeting energy and other critical infrastructure. Venable said, “Many of these systems were designed so long ago that equipping them with modern security countermeasures can be difficult.” He said that more needs to be done, especially with regard to the electric grid and that “rapid detection and isolation of intrusions results in higher levels of resilience” thereby eliminating or minimizing any effects.

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