U.S. Energy Grid under Attack

Friday, May 24, 2013
(photo: Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability)

America’s electrical utilities are under constant attack from cyber threats, according to a congressional report.


The investigation by the staffs of Representative Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Representative Henry Waxman (D-California) found that the U.S. power grid has been the focus of daily cyber attacks, with one utility reporting it was subject to 10,000 attempts a month. In addition, “More than a dozen utilities reported “daily,” “constant,” or “frequent” attempted cyberattacks ranging from phishing to malware infection to unfriendly probes.”


Markey has argued that Congress should adopt legislation to better protect the power grid from hackers, especially those in China, Russia and Iran. According to the report, “Cyber-attacks can create instant effects at very low cost, and are very difficult to

positively attribute back to the attacker.” Part of the problem is that “The vast majority of grid assets are owned and operated by private companies and other non-federal institutions.” The U.S. energy grid include 200,000 miles of transmission lines.


In 2010, Markey introduced the GRID Act, which would have given the federal government more power to impose standards on electric utilities. But the bipartisan plan died in the Senate.


Currently, two regulatory bodies establish security guidelines for the grid: The industry-run North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Both must agree on changes before they become mandatory standards.


Markey’s plan calls for FERC to act alone in requiring safeguards for utilities to follow. Some industry groups, such as the American Public Power Association, have opposed efforts to give FERC more authority.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky


To Learn More:

House Democrats’ Report Says Power Grid is Vulnerable to Cyber Attacks (by Josh Hicks, Washington Post)

Power Company Targeted by 10,000 Cyberattacks per Month (by Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica)

Electric Grid Vulnerability; Industry Responses Reveal Security Gaps (staff of Representatives Edward Markey and Henry Waxman) (pdf)

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)


Leave a comment