Grid Protection and Cybersecurity

06.10.10 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The House of Representatives yesterday passed the “Grid Reliability and Infrastructure Defense Act” which is intended to bolster that national electric grid against terrorist attacks, cyber threats, electromagnetic pulse weapons and solar storms. The Act authorizes the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to issue emergency orders to protect critical electric infrastructure, and to take other measures to address current and potential vulnerabilities.

“The electric grid’s vulnerability to cyber and to other attacks is one of the single greatest threats to our national security,” said Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), who introduced the bill.

The floor debate on the bill was a somewhat jarring mix of prudent anticipation and extravagant doomsday warnings.

“Some of us read the book ‘The Road’ [a post-apocalyptic tale by Cormac McCarthy],” said Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI).  “Lots of different scenarios are out there.  We need to be prepared.  This bill moves us down that road.”

“Scientists tell us that the likelihood of a severe naturally occurring geomagnetic event capable of crippling our electric grid is 100 percent,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.).  “It will happen; it is just a question of when.”

“If you believe intelligence sources, our grid is already compromised,” advised Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY).

The Journal of National Security Law & Policy has just published a special issue dedicated to cybersecurity, with fifteen papers on various aspects of the issue.  From various perspectives, they address what is known about the nature of the threat, current vulnerabilities, the role of the federal government, and policy options that are under consideration.

Update: See, relatedly, this July 2009 congressional hearing volume on Securing the Modern Electric Grid from Physical and Cyber Attacks (pdf).