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Russia Is Inside Our Power Grid: Just How Vulnerable Are We?

04-04-2018
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Trump Putin
Trump Putin

Russian government cyberattacks on the United States' power grid have sparked the first public accusations from the Trump administration, and now the government is working on new protections.

The administration charges those attacks stretch back at least two years.

The Department of Homeland Security released the details of what it called a multi-stage effort by Russia to target specific government entities and critical infrastructure.

The Trump administration announced extensive sanctions against Russia, which included sanctions on the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm that produced divisive political posts on American social media platforms during the 2016 presidential election.

According to the DHS, Russia accessed US government networks by initially targeting with malware small commercial third-party networks that were less secure.

"Like in Pearl Harbor, December 7th, we were hit with airplanes and torpedoes. I believe the next December 7th won't be that, but it will be rolling blackouts with the Russians turning off our energy," Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE), who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee, told CBN News.

He says right now credible intelligence shows the Russians are inside our energy grid with the goal of cutting power in a time of crisis, not only creating chaos, but making it difficult for us to respond.

In 2015, Ukraine experienced an unprecedented cyberattack on its electric grid that led to widespread power outages, which it said was caused by Russia.

The attack raised concerns about vulnerabilities in the US system that could make it a victim of similar attacks.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry released a response to the DHS announcement, saying the Department of Energy has "worked closely with government partners and energy sector asset owners to help ensure attempts failed or were stopped."

"This event demonstrates exactly why I am creating an Office of Cyber Security and Emergency Response (CESER)," Perry's statement read. "It is crucial for the DOE to consolidate and strengthen our efforts to combat the growing nefarious cyber threats we face."

Hackers get in by using spear-phishing emails, which are fake messages that come from a known sender that contain malicious links or documents.

Once inside energy sector networks, hackers move to gain information, like how control systems work.

Perry reassured lawmakers the threat is on his radar.

Part of his effort is a newly created office to "bolster" cybersecurity and energy security efforts.

It is headed by Undersecretary of the Department of Energy Mark Menezes.

"We are fortunate that we haven't had a major consequence of attacks, and thus far, we have been successful in identifying. Part of this analysis involves modeling, information sharing and monitoring," Menezes told lawmakers during testimony on Capitol Hill.

Congressman Bacon adds we need to let the Russians know there will be a counterpunch for their actions.

"The time to respond is now," warned Bacon, "not the day or two before we are attacked."

Protecting American electricity from cyberattacks is challenging, not just because the grid contains so many physical and computerized components, but also because it must operate 24 hours a day.

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