Senators urge Trump to act on Russian grid threats

Source: Blake Sobczak, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, July 27, 2018

Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are calling on the White House to investigate reported Russian hacking intrusions into the U.S. power grid.

“We have reason to be alarmed,” the two lawmakers said in a letter addressed to President Trump yesterday, citing a March alert from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI that called out “a multi-stage intrusion campaign by Russian government cyber actors.”

The senators also pointed to recent comments from a senior DHS official who warned that the hacking campaign had claimed “hundreds” of victims in critical U.S. industries.

That official, Jonathan Homer, clarified in a briefing yesterday that the “hundreds” figure referred to the number of organizations targeted. Still, the chief of DHS’s industrial control systems group said there were “quite a number that were compromised,” including at least one power generator.

Cantwell, ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has long pushed the Trump administration to take more aggressive action against hackers who target U.S. energy infrastructure (Energywire, Oct. 27, 2017).

Graham, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, joined her yesterday in requesting a “thorough analysis” of Russian cyber warfare capabilities against energy infrastructure.

The lawmakers also urged Trump to review “the extent to which the Russians have already attempted cyber-intrusions into our electric grid, pipelines, and other important energy facilities; and what steps your administration is currently taking to combat these Russian cyber warfare capabilities and intrusions into our energy facilities.”

Trump administration officials have cited cybersecurity as a top-tier concern, though the president has vacillated on his intelligence community’s conclusions on Russian interference in 2016 U.S. elections (Energywire, July 17).

Energy Secretary Rick Perry moved to establish a stand-alone cybersecurity office within DOE to combat cyberthreats to the energy sector. However, the agency has proposed trimming budgets for several other offices tasked with handling general grid threats, as Cantwell and Graham observed in their letter.

“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,” they wrote.