153 Cyber Attacks on U.S. Energy Grid in One Year

Saturday, March 08, 2014
(photo: Charlie Riedel, AP)

The power plants, transmission systems and other facets of the U.S. electricity grid have become popular targets of hackers, putting at risk America’s ability to keep everything that needs power up and running.


Last year alone more than 150 cyber attacks were unleashed on the energy sector, according to a new report (pdf) from the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, DC, think tank founded by former leaders of the U.S. Senate (Republicans Howard Baker and Bob Dole and Democrats Tom Daschle and George Mitchell).


The report wastes little time in stressing the importance of stopping hackers from being able to bring down portions of the grid. In the first sentence of the report’s opening section, the authors remark: “Protecting the nation’s electricity grid from cyber attacks is a critical national security issue.”


After all, the loss of power means businesses come to a stop, transportation systems shut down and financial institutions cease to facilitate commerce, among other key areas of society.


The two-day blackout that darkened the Northeast in 2003—and resulted in an economic loss of $6 billion—was not due to cyber attacks, but it nonetheless demonstrated just how vital it is to keep the grid operational, as the report pointed out:


“As previous grid failures, including the multiday Northeast blackout of 2003, have shown, any event that causes prolonged power outages over a large area would not only be extremely costly, it would wreak havoc on millions of people’s daily lives and could profoundly disrupt the delivery of essential services, including communications, food, water, health care, and emergency response.”


To protect the grid from intruders, private industry must take steps to shore up vulnerabilities in networks that maintain and connect power suppliers with distributors.


One important recommendation offered in the report calls for the creation of an industry-run organization dedicated to shielding the grid from hackers—the Institute for Electric Grid Cybersecurity. It has been proposed that participation in such an outfit would be optional, but the government would persuade companies to join through a series of incentives, such as guaranteed insurance coverage against economic loss caused by cyber attacks.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Cybersecurity and the North American Electric Grid: New Policy Approaches to Address an Evolving Threat (Bipartisan Policy Center) (pdf)

Experts Call for a New Organization to Oversee Energy Industry’s Contribution to Grid’s Cybersecurity (Homeland Security News Wire)

How Safe is the Grid from Cyberattacks? (by Daniel J. Graeber, Christian Science Monitor)

U.S. Energy Grid under Attack (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

Report on Vulnerability of Electric Power Grid Finally Released after 5 Years (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Government Watchdog Warns against Vulnerability of Electrical Grid (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)


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