US Energy Department seeks to bolster defences to cyber threats

The US Energy Department has this week launched a major new initiative to protect the nation’s electric grid from cyber-attacks as the country takes an increasingly aggressive approach to countering perceived threats.

The move encourages owners and operators of power plants and electric utilities to improve their capabilities for identifying cyber threats to their networks.

The move comes as reports emerge that the Biden administration is ready to impose sanctions on about a dozen Russian intelligence officials over their alleged role in interfering with the 2020 presidential election as well as the recent widespread Solarwinds attack, which targeted a raft of US government agencies.

More recently, the former National Security Agency chief has warned that cyber threat is on the rise.

As part of the latest launch, the US Energy department is also seeking recommendations from electric utilities, energy companies, government agencies and others for how to safeguard the energy system supply chain.

The initiative includes concrete milestones for them to put technologies into use so they can spot and respond to intrusions in real time.

“Innovative partnerships like these are essential to addressing the urgent cybersecurity challenge because much of our critical infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector,” Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council, said in a statement.

Government Accountability Office report last month found that the US grid’s distribution systems, which transport electricity from transmission systems to consumers, are increasingly at risk.

It said hackers can use multiple techniques to gain access, including compromising the supply chain by manipulating software or hardware or exploiting virtual private network connections.

The report recommended that the Energy Department, the primary federal agency for the energy sector, do more to address those risks.