Senators Demand Action on Grid

July 30, 2018

NBC News:

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan duo of U.S. senators is urging President Donald Trump to pay more attention to the threat posed by Russia against critical infrastructure like the nation’s electric grid, and to provide an analysis of the risk and a plan of action within 90 days.

In a letter to the White House Wednesday, Washington Democrat Maria Cantwell and South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham write that they are “concerned about Russia’s capabilities with respect to cyberattacks on our energy infrastructure.”

“We believe the federal government needs to take stronger action prioritizing cybersecurity of energy networks and fighting cyber aggression to match your Department of Energy’s outward facing commitment,” says the letter.

This is the third time Sen. Cantwell, the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, has written to President Trump to express concerns about Russia’s ability to target U.S. energy facilities, pipelines and other critical infrastructure. The White House has never responded.

Unlike the previous letters, however, Wednesday’s request is cosigned by a prominent Republican who has called himself a friend of the president.

And, for the first time, Sen. Cantwell asks the administration to detail what they are doing to combat Russia’s cyber capabilities.


A senior Capitol Hill cyber expert told NBC News that the White House needs to focus more on the threat from Russia in cyberspace. “The administration realizes China is a threat and they are actively fighting it. They realize Iran is a threat and they are actively fighting it. They realize North Korea is a threat and they are actively fighting it. When it comes to Russia, there seems to be a really significant disconnect.”

At the Aspen Security Forum last week, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned that Russia is “by far” the most aggressive actor against the U.S. in the cyber world, and said he is concerned about a “cyber 9/11.”

“Let’s say you shut down Wall Street for a week. What does that do to world markets and people’s investments?” he said. “What about an attack on the electric grid in New England in January that may be sophisticated enough to take it out for three days? How many people will die from minus degree weather on that?”

In March the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI issued a joint alert that Russian government hackers had staged malware and gained access to U.S. critical infrastructure, including energy networks, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors.


State-sponsored Russian hackers appear far more interested this year in demonstrating that they can disrupt the American electric utility grid than the midterm elections, according to United States intelligence officials and technology company executives.

Despite attempts to infiltrate the online accounts of two Senate Democrats up for re-election, intelligence officials said they have seen little activity by Russian military hackers aimed at either major American political figures or state voter registration systems.

By comparison, according to intelligence officials and executives of the companies that oversee the world’s computer networks, there is surprisingly far more effort directed at implanting malware in the electrical grid.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence findings, but their conclusions were confirmed by several executives of technology and technology security firms.

This week, the Department of Homeland Security reported that over the last year, Russia’s military intelligence agency had infiltrated the control rooms of power plants across the United States. In theory, that could enable it to take control of parts of the grid by remote control.

While the department cited “hundreds of victims” of the attacks, far more than they had previously acknowledged, there is no evidence that the hackers tried to take over the plants, as Russian actors did in Ukraine in 2015 and 2016.

In interviews, American intelligence officials said that the department had understated the scope of the threat. So far the White House has said little about the intrusions other than raise the fear of such breaches to maintain old coal plants in case they are needed to recover from a major attack.

On Friday, President Trump was briefed on government efforts to protect the coming midterm elections from what a White House statement described as “malign foreign actors.” It said it was giving cybersecurity support to state and local governments to protect their election systems.

“The president has made it clear that his administration will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections from any nation state to other malicious actors,” the statement said.


3 Responses to “Senators Demand Action on Grid”

  1. doldrom Says:

    Does this mean the Russians should worry about defending against possible cyber attacks of their infrastructure ?

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    Big whoop! TWO Senators DEMAND ACTION? And one is Leslie Graham, who can’t seem to decide where he stands on anything much these days?

    And “The president has made it clear that his administration will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections from any nation state to other malicious actors”?

    Grandstanding is alive and well.

    We will not likely see any action until AFTER the midterms—-Trump needs Putin’s hackers to help Repugnants win. And maybe not even then, since Trump will do everything he can to keep Putin from spilling the beans (pee tapes, Russian $$$, collusion, etc). Why should Putin attack our infrastructure when he has Trump by his (small) you-know-whats?

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