The security, economy, and general welfare of the United States are critically dependent on electricity. Transportation, pipelines, communications, and other essential services would all fail without a continuously operating electricity grid. It’s fair to say that the grid is the most essential of all our critical infrastructure, which is why it is of the utmost importance that it be adequately protected.
While the grid is vulnerable to numerous and ever-changing threats — including physical sabotage, cyber sabotage, and destruction by electromagnetic pulse (EMP) — important steps have been taken to improve grid security in recent years. Key information about the grid and how it operates is no longer public, which reduces easy targeting by potential physical saboteurs. We have strengthened online information security and added multiple levels of cybersecurity. We have also acquired some transformer back-up and have implemented mandatory sharing of spares in the event of a localized EMP or other destructive event.
Legislators have recently introduced bills to further strengthen the resilience of the grid. For example, H.R. 3710, the Cybersecurity Vulnerability Remediation Act, would allow the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to disseminate protocols to counter vulnerabilities. Senate Bill S. 333 would authorize the Secretary of Homeland Security to work with a consortium of non-profits to develop, update, and deliver badly needed cybersecurity training.
Yet, there are still major challenges to grid security. The “edges” of the grid are vulnerable due to lax security and human error, potentially devastating malware “bombs” hidden in the grid must be removed, and we need better coordination among the multiple (and sometimes overlapping) federal and state agencies responsible for security. We must also assess whether we can do more to stockpile critical spares, segment the grid, and install fail-safes to protect us from an EMP. We should ensure that investments in grid security are among our top priorities if we are to secure and protect our critical infrastructure.
Learn more about grid security from General Clark in our recent webinar, “Energy, The Grid, & Security Issues,” held on May 6, 2020.