Reports from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Siemens highlight both the increasing cyber threats faced by the electric utility companies and the lack of adequate readiness to respond to these threats. According to these reports, a cyber-attack on the electric grid could cause “severe” damage.

The electric grid delivers the electricity that is essential for modern life. As a result, the reliability of the grid, its ability to meet consumers’ electricity demand always, has been of long-standing national interest. The grid’s reliability can be impaired by cyberattacks on the IT and OT systems that support its operations. Cyberattacks could result in widespread loss of electrical services including long-duration, large-scale blackouts.

“Power and energy is the core of almost everything we do. Nothing in our modern society can function without access to power, and it’s the utility industry that provides that to everybody, which is why this is an urgent matter of national concern,” said Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. According to Chertoff and many cybersecurity professionals, the security of the national electric grid is a “real national security issue.”

What Are the Cyber Risks?

The Siemens report, compiled by the manufacturing company and the Ponemon Institute, focuses on cyber risks to electric utilities with gas, solar or wind assets as well as with water utilities.

“The survey results show that risk is worsening, with potential for severe financial, environmental and infrastructure damage,” reads the Siemens report, noting that “the risk that cyber-attacks pose to the OT environment is increasing in frequency and potency as malicious actors’ ability to accurately target critical infrastructure assets improves.”

The majority of those surveyed by Siemens and Ponemon, around 54%, reported that they expect a cyberattack on critical infrastructure within the next year, and 64% described cyberattacks as (Read more...)