The U.S electric grid has been successfully penetrated by Russian hackers

Written By: Jen Neville
July 24, 2018

Public disclosures by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that the electric grid has been successfully penetrated by Russian hackers is another dramatic disclosure of the active threats posed to the nation’s critical power infrastructure, according to Protect Our Power, a not-for-profit group formed to advocate for heightened grid security and resiliency.

The DHS report dramatically confirms that Russian hackers have penetrated hundreds of U.S. electric utility control rooms and could have caused blackouts.

“This most recent report confirms the worst and clearly indicates that much more needs to be done to make our electric grid more robust and resilient,” stated Jim Cunningham, Executive Director of Protect Our Power, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to strengthening the grid.   “Now is the time for all stakeholders, especially government and the private sector, to coalesce and take action. It is an open secret that the supply chain and vendors, in particular, present a vulnerable pathway to the grid. We must rigorously examine our vendor supply chain practices to assure that these threats are blocked.”

“It is important for the public to understand that these threats are real and happening with alarming regularity,” added Suedeen Kelly, a former commissioner at Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. “Last week, FERC ordered a major upgrading of the Critical Infrastructure Protection reliability standards to include mandatory reporting of cyber-security incidents that could harm our bulk electric system, and that is an important step forward.”

Protect Our Power is working with industry, government, regulators and other key stakeholders to improve communications, enhance best practices and seek solutions that overcome these threats.

According to sources, the Russian hackers, who worked for a shadowy state-sponsored group previously identified as Dragonfly or Energetic Bear, broke into supposedly secure, “air-gapped” or isolated networks owned by utilities with relative ease by first penetrating the networks of key vendors who had trusted relationships with the power companies.

The department claims to plan three more industry briefings and hopes to determine whether there are any new network infections, and whether the hackers have figured out ways to defeat security enhancements like multifactor authentication.

Additionally, the electric grid faces challenges from cyberattacks, natural disasters and accidental failures. To address these challenges, CSD and the Department of Energy jointly fund the Cyber Resilient Energy Delivery Consortium. The consortium is developing solutions through R&D, education and industry engagement. CREDC will generate research, evaluate the results and deploy solutions in the marketplace. The project’s foci include cyber-protection technologies; cyber monitoring, metrics, and event detection; risk assessment of Energy Delivery Systems technology; data analytics for cyber event detection; resilient EDS architectures and networks; and identifying the impact of disruptive technologies such as the Internet of Things and cloud computing on EDS resiliency.

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