Cyber-terrorists are targeting our aging electric grid

Dan Upham

The nation presents many potential targets to would-be terrorists, but one that doesn’t get enough attention is our antiquated electric grid. The Department of Homeland Security found that in the first half of 2013 the grid was hit by more than a hundred serious cyber-attacks. From blackouts to energy theft, the threats to the grid are clear, present and certainly a danger.

John Finnigan is the senior regulatory attorney for EDF’s US Climate and Energy Program, representing EDF before state public utility commissions on smart grid deployments and energy efficiency matters.

On November 13 and 14, the North American Electric Reliability Council will conduct a drill, called GridEx II, simulating physical and cyber-attacks to gauge how well the electric utility industry and the grid itself would respond to a cyber war.  Sixty five utilities and eight regional transmission organizations are participating, representing most of the nation’s electricity customers.

“Given the devastating consequences of a cyber-attack on the grid, this is one area where we can’t afford to cut corners,” wrote Finnigan in a post about the upcoming preparedness drill. “Our leaders must ensure that federal budget cuts do not impair the Department of Energy’s and the Department of Homeland Security’s means to protect our nation’s critical energy infrastructure from cyber-attacks.”

The drill is likely to uncover weaknesses in the system that the authorities will need to address. But no matter what the drill finds, Finnigan says, there are already a number of steps that should be taken to strengthen our grid and shore up our defenses:

  • Grant the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission broader authority to protect the grid
  • Better coordinate federal and state enforcement
  • Explore more efficient ways to share information on threats while safeguarding the security of that information (as proposed in Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2013)
  • Secure commitments from the utilities to follow absolute best practices

Read Finnigan’s full post on our Energy Exchange blog for more.