The American power grid has already been hacked. Here are the facts.

It’s a pain if your email gets hacked. But it’s a nightmare if your electricity was hacked.  Unfortunately, it’s already a reality in some areas of the United States. As utilities rely on connectivity to improve grid operations, it becomes more exposed to the threat of cyber hacking.  To fight back against hackers, companies are now doing more than ever to protect our power supply.

The first major cyber electricity attack

In 2015, Russian hackers launched a cyber attack on 30 substations in Ukraine.  By attacking the distribution systems of three Ukrainian electricity companies, the hackers were able to cut off the electricity supply to 230,000 people. Experts agree that the tactics utilized in Ukraine could be utilized in other countries.  A recent report states that Russia has already been successful in hacking the power grid of at least one other country – the United States.

Russians hack the American power grid

Even though no power was shut off and there were no explosions at nuclear power plants, the United States power grid was hacked by a group from Russia.  In late 2015, at the same time they were hacking the Ukrainian power grid, Russian hackers made their way into the American grid. They hacked into machines with access to critical control systems at power plants and substations.  Russians were also able to collect vital information about how our grid works. These attacks have continued since 2015 and they began to increase rapidly in April 2017. It is not known what the hacker’s intentions were, but the potential threat of an adversary having access to our critical infrastructure is alarming.

Department of Energy’s focus on improving grid security

According to the Department of Energy, a top priority of the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability is to make the nation’s electric power grid and oil and natural gas infrastructure resilient to cyber attacks.  The DOE’s goal is to have a more resilient power grid by 2020. The DOE’s goal has three sub-goals: strengthen energy sector cybersecurity preparedness, coordinate cyber incident response and recovery, and accelerate research into more resilient energy delivery systems.  This is not an easy task given that 90 percent of America’s power infrastructure is privately owned. The DOE is working with utilities across the country to achieve its grid resiliency goals and avoid attacks similar to the ones carried out by Russian hackers over the last year.

A Smarter Grid Will Help

As the United States’ electricity grid, which was developed nearly a century ago, transforms into a smarter, more modern version, one of the key focuses will be on cyber resiliency.  All industries face the threats of malicious cyber attacks, but few face the dire consequences of such an attack like energy providers. As you hear about investments in the “Smart Grid” by your local utility, know that these investments include implementing physical and digital protections against cyber attacks.


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