The United States Energy Department has said that the electricity system “faces imminent danger” from cyber-attacks, which are growing more frequent and sophisticated, but grid operators say they are already on top of the problem.
In the second installment of the department’s Quadrennial Energy Review, which focuses on the threats, vulnerabilities, protection and opportunities for the electricity system in the US, the department writes that the sector is “experiencing rapid changes that are testing traditional regulatory frameworks and creating new and more complex interdependencies.”
“Almost every economic sector is reliant on a more interconnected, data-driven and electricity dependent system,” the DoE said in a statement.
“The increased digitization of the electricity sector brings multiple consumer and system benefits, and creates new and more severe vulnerabilities to cyber-attacks.”
The 494 page report warns that the “current cybersecurity landscape is characterized by rapidly evolving threats and vulnerabilities, juxtaposed against the slower-moving deployment of defense measures.”
The DoE said widespread disruption of the country’s critical electrical service due to a transmission failure caused by a cyber-attack “could undermine US lifeline networks, critical defense infrastructure and much of the economy; it could also endanger the health and safety of millions of citizens.
“Also, natural gas plays an increasingly important role as fuel for the Nation’s electricity system; a gas pipeline outage or malfunction due to a cyberattack could affect not only pipeline and related infrastructures but also the reliability of the Nation’s electricity system.”
The DoE also included 76 recommendations to policymakers in the report such as declaring the electricity system as a national security asset thereby making its protection a federal responsibility, confidentially and increasing federal support for state efforts to reduce electricity demand.
And while the report noted that cyber-attacks “have had limited consequences to date,” it said that a 2015 attack on the Ukrainian grid that caused widespread power outages, “should be an indicator of what is possible.”