Washington, D.C. – Today, Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) called for action to defend our critical infrastructure against cyberattacks during a committee hearing. Modernization of the electric grid brings tremendous benefits, but it also makes the grid more vulnerable to cyberattacks.
“There is the issue of cybersecurity that keeps me up at night, thinking about potential hacks from Russia or foreign actors, as we see large-scale attacks happening in other places. If we do not make the necessary investments to prevent, defend against and minimize the impact of these cyberattacks, our enemies may succeed in causing a widespread blackout and devastation to our economy,” Sen. Cantwell said.
Given the importance of this issue, Sen. Cantwell will send a letter to President Trump later today to clarify the Department of Energy’s (DOE) role as a lead agency in our nation’s cybersecurity matters. The letter also urges the president to direct DOE to consider Russia’s capabilities and efforts to hack into our energy infrastructure. “Today, I am calling on the Trump administration to protect the public from growing cyber threats that Russia and other foreign actors pose to our energy assets,” she said.
According to a recent NBC News report, the Russians have conducted more than a dozen significant cyberattacks against foreign countries. In 2015, the Russians hacked into three Ukrainian distribution utilities, knocking power out to more than 225,000 customers for several hours. And it appears the Russians reportedly may have recently done it again; two months ago, a utility in northern Kiev reported that their grid was brought down as a result of a cyberattack that was very similar to the alleged Russian attack in 2015.
Fortunately, the grid in the United States has not yet been successfully attacked. But we do know that there have been attempts to hack into our utility systems. It is increasingly clear that the Russians and other foreign actors have the capability, and possibly the intent, to do significant damage to our economy by attacking our grid.
Sen. Cantwell is drafting legislation that would provide sufficient funding, develop the 21st century energy cyber-workforce, secure the energy supply chain and help small utilities better protect against cyberattacks.
Last year, Chairman Murkowski and Ranking Member Cantwell passed a bipartisan energy bill out of the Senate to invest in our energy infrastructure and cybersecurity. Unfortunately, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.-01) blocked the legislation as we were completing work in conference. “I hope this year the Speaker will finally realize that protecting our electricity grid from attack and making needed investments in our energy infrastructure need serious attention,” Sen. Cantwell said.
After all, the World Economic Forum recently estimated that the digital transformation of electricity technology will create $1.2 billion in economic value in the next 10 years. “To me, it is imperative that the U.S. lead in this effort,” Sen. Cantwell said.