Administration addresses power grid weaknesses

Smart-grid cybersecurity standards are under way

The Obama administration has stepped up the pace in recent weeks to set cybersecurity standards for smart-grid technologies funded by the economic stimulus package. Those activities coincide with reports that foreign cyber spies have already hacked into the nation’s electricity distribution system.

The Energy Department will distribute $4.5 billion in stimulus funds to help develop intelligent electricity distribution networks. But experts are warning that the so-called smart grids might be vulnerable to cyber attacks.

Adding urgency is a media report from April 8 that foreign hackers, possibly from China or Russia, have embedded malicious software in existing electric grids, and the code apparently could be activated for destructive purposes at a later date.

“The federal government needs to be doing a whole lot more than it is doing,” said Joseph Weiss, a cybersecurity expert who recently testified to the Senate. For a start, Congress ought to grant the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission expanded authority beyond interstate-only infrastructure to include regulating cybersecurity for state and local electric grids, Weiss said.

To help counteract threats, the National Institute of Standards and Technology announced April 14 an aggressive three-phase program to develop critical technical standards for the smart grid by year’s end. On March 19, FERC announced a policy statement and action plan, too. NIST will hold a stakeholders’ meeting for the standards road map May 19 and 20 in Washington.

FERC and the power industry have been working together but still need to do more to ensure cybersecurity, said James Lewis, director of technology and public policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“For years, cybersecurity has been at the bottom of the regulatory priorities,” Lewis said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.

Featured

  • computer network

    How Einstein changes the way government does business

    The Department of Commerce is revising its confidentiality agreement for statistical data survey respondents to reflect the fact that the Department of Homeland Security could see some of that data if it is captured by the Einstein system.

  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Army photo by Monica King. Jan. 26, 2017.

    Mattis mulls consolidation in IT, cyber

    In a Feb. 17 memo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senior leadership to establish teams to look for duplication across the armed services in business operations, including in IT and cybersecurity.

  • Image from Shutterstock.com

    DHS vague on rules for election aid, say states

    State election officials had more questions than answers after a Department of Homeland Security presentation on the designation of election systems as critical U.S. infrastructure.

  • Org Chart Stock Art - Shutterstock

    How the hiring freeze targets millennials

    The government desperately needs younger talent to replace an aging workforce, and experts say that a freeze on hiring doesn't help.

  • Shutterstock image: healthcare digital interface.

    VA moves ahead with homegrown scheduling IT

    The Department of Veterans Affairs will test an internally developed scheduling module at primary care sites nationwide to see if it's ready to service the entire agency.

  • Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit.

    MGT Act poised for a comeback

    After missing in the last Congress, drafters of a bill to encourage cloud adoption are looking for a new plan.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group