A spotlight on grid insecurity

Drawing from responses from more than 100 utilities across America, a new report shows that the nation’s electric grid remains highly vulnerable to attacks from Iran and North Korea, or other threats like geomagnetic storms from solar activity.

The report, released by Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) indicates that the lengthy, industry-driven process by which grid security standards are set results in long delays and haphazard implementation of the voluntary security recommendations the industry refuses to make mandatory.

The electric grid is the target of numerous and daily cyber attacks. One utility said that there were 10,000 attempted attacks each month, and others describe the level of potential incursions as “daily”, “constant”, “malicious” and “seeking to gain access to internal systems.”

Most utilities comply with mandatory standards only, not additional voluntary ones, and do so unevenly. For example, while almost all utilities said they complied with mandatory Stuxnet standards, only 21 percent of industry-owned utilities, 44 percent of municipally- or cooperatively-owned utilities and 62.5 percent of federal entities reported compliance with voluntary Stuxnet recommendations that industry did not agree to mandate.

Most utilities have not taken concrete steps to reduce the vulnerability of the grid to geomagnetic storms and it is unclear whether the number of available spare transformers is adequate.

“National security experts say that cyber attacks on America’s electric grid top the target list for terrorists and rogue states, yet we remain highly vulnerable to attacks,” said Rep. Markey, a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. “We need to push electric utilities to enlist all of the measures they can now, and push for stronger standards in Congress that will keep our economy and our country safe from cyber warfare.”

In order to respond to growing cyber threats, in 2010 Reps. Markey and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) introduced the bipartisan GRID Act to strengthen grid security. The legislation passed the House, but the Senate did not act. Rep. Markey has continued to push for grid security legislation, despite the objections of Republicans in Congress.

The complete report is available here.

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