Grid Security: We Need to Stay Protected if We Want to Stay Connected
Is our national cybersecurity so inadequate that we’re unable to defend against hackers aimed at infiltrating our critical infrastructure?
We know it is a serious threat because attempted hacks on energy infrastructure are already happening. CNN reported in December that the energy grid was actually attacked 79 times in 2014, and that’s just counting the attacks we intercepted.
So far, the grid hasn’t been brought down by hackers, though, so government and utility cybersecurity seems to be holding its own. Technology is constantly evolving however, and it’s critical that U.S. defense organizations and utilities keep security measures one step ahead of high-tech criminals.
September 2014 was a tense month for government officials dealing with terrorism. One expert, Dr. Peter Pry, a former CIA officer and head of the task force on National and Homeland Security warned that the power grid may face “imminent” attack by terrorist organizations, particularly ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – a cruel and violent terrorist organization. The Washington Examiner quoted Pry as saying,
Inadequate grid security, a porous U.S.-Mexico border, and fragile transmission systems make the electric grid a target for ISIS.
Frank Gaffney, president and founding member of the Center for Security Policy, a Washington think tank, echoed Pry’s warnings, adding, “By one estimate, should the power go out and stay out for over a year, nine out of 10 Americans would likely perish.”
How credible are these threats? Clearly, even though our grid needs to be strengthened against hackers, no organization has yet infiltrated our systems enough to wreak much havoc. The dire warnings of “grid jihad” are more fear-mongering than legitimate alarms of imminent destruction. Some government officials aren’t so sure, however.
Admiral Michael Rogers, National Security Agency director and commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, testified at a House Select Intelligence Committee hearing in November 2014 regarding combating threats to U.S. cybersecurity. Rogers referred to previous attacks on U.S. systems as “reconnaissance,” and warned that more serious attacks are likely on the horizon.
“There are growing reports of attempts to breach the networks and industrial control systems of our electric power operators and critical infrastructure operations,” Adm. Rogers warned at the hearing. He added that “. . . the threat of a catastrophic and damaging cyber attack in the United States’ critical infrastructure, like our power or financial networks is actually becoming less hypothetical every day.” Coming from the top cybersecurity official in the country, these remarks are foreboding.
Is Cyber Crime the Future of Warfare?
Governments all over the world are struggling to protect sensitive computer networks and electronic records. Even private corporations draw the ire of computer criminals.
Fears of cyber crime remained vivid through December 2014 in the wake of the highly publicized hack on Sony Pictures. Worries of a “cyberwar” are still vehement around the United States since international tension ensued. (Have you seen The Interview yet?) Luckily, everyday life hasn’t changed much for most Americans, and in all likelihood that will remain the same. Even so, the reliance of our infrastructure on computerized networks is a weakness we need to fix.
President Obama agrees. He recently gave a speech on cybersecurity saying, “This extraordinary interconnection creates enormous opportunities, but also creates enormous vulnerabilities for us as a nation and for our economy.” He added, “If we are going to be connected, we need to be protected.”
He’s right. Big data and networked information leave vital infrastructure too vulnerable to domestic or foreign attacks. The electric grid is one of the country’s most essential resources, and we already know it faces attacks every day. Cyber Command must be ready to prevent and intercept any type of attack from enemies, foreign and domestic. American lives will depend on it.
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