Tuesday, July 14, 2015

June news roundup: How safe is the U.S. power grid?

Are the U.S. power grid and other critical infrastructures safe from cyberattacks? According to recent news and research, the answer is no. Reliance on the power grid is increasing, as are the threats that plague it. Read the latest on the risks to U.S. critical infrastructure below in this month’s news roundup.

A Critical Threat (SC Magazine UK, June 30)
Attacks to Iran’s nuclear plants and last year’s attack on a German steel mill prove the level of damage that can be done with little effort. Critical infrastructure can easily be penetrated; therefore, SCADA devices that aren’t secure are causing growing concern. These threats are fueling global legislation.

According to former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, the U.S. power grid is becoming increasingly vulnerable to terrorist attacks. These attacks, he stresses, are likely to be cyberattacks, which have the capability to completely shut down the power grid. Furthermore, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) did a formal review of the U.S. power grid, which resulted in a barely passing grade of D+. This grading shows that U.S. critical infrastructure is in poor condition with a strong risk of failure. That being said, there is not enough attention or funds dedicated to secure the power grid.

Attacks on industrial control systems and SCADA systems are increasing at a rapid rate. According to a recent survey by the SANS Institute, more than 30 percent of respondents said their organizations’ control systems have been breached. Of those, 17 percent acknowledged six or more breaches so far this year alone.

Has the Obama administration done enough to protect the U.S. power grid? A former CIA director says no. According to R. James Woolsey, the country has done a poor job protecting the critical infrastructure that includes the Internet and the power grid. He proposes a few reasons as to why security has not been a high priority in the U.S., including the administration’s lack of focus on this issue. He says that the U.S. power grid has 18 critical infrastructures, with 17 of them relying on electricity. If the entire power grid is hacked, so many things are at risk: food, water and even lives.

Will America’s Power Stay On? (Homeland Security Today, June 13)
Aside from the risk of cyberattacks, security and energy experts are also warning that the U.S. power grid is equally vulnerable to natural factors that could result in outages across the country. According to a recent Johns Hopkins University study, there are shortcomings across all 50 states, such as variations of standards and lack of accountability at the national level. The report states that these shortcomings, if not addressed soon, could be exposed on a much larger scale. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) has failed to produce enforceable standards and, as a result, outages will likely occur.

Want more critical infrastructure news? Read last month’s news roundup

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