Power grid vulnerable to cyberattacks, committee told

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee is aiming to take up legislation next week that would provide the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission with additional authority to help protect the nation's power grid from a cyberattack.

During a hearing before the Energy and Commerce Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee, several witnesses and lawmakers argued that the threat to the nation's power grid from cyberattacks is real and urged lawmakers to enact legislation to give FERC additional powers to order utilities to take the necessary steps to address the problem.

"The Department of Energy regularly discovers new vulnerabilities in the control systems employed by many utilities," said Kevin Kolevar, the department's assistant secretary for electricity delivery and energy reliability. "This is not hyperbole ... cyberattacks against control systems have occurred and they are becoming increasingly sophisticated."

FERC argues that current law is inadequate to allow the agency to take action to protect against cybersecurity attacks in a timely and confidential manner. And while the North American Electric Reliability Corp., the industry self-regulatory group overseen by FERC, issued an advisory in 2007 to 1,800 power operators and owners outlining immediate and longer term steps they should take to address cybersecurity vulnerabilities, compliance with the advisory was voluntary. A recent FERC audit of 30 utilities found that most were not in compliance with the advisory.

Draft legislation developed by the subcommittee would give FERC the necessary authority it needs to require compliance with cybersecurity standards and issue emergency orders to help protect against an immediate cybersecurity threat, Energy and Commerce Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher, D-Va., said. However, Boucher cited some outstanding disagreements over such issues as the definition of a cybersecurity threat, whether the legislation should also address immediate physical threats to utilities, and whether there should be a sunset on the emergency powers granted under the measure.

If the outstanding issues can be addressed, Boucher said he plans to mark up the legislation next week. FERC Chairman Joseph Kelliher said he believed the draft legislation strikes the right balance and said the agency would agree to a one-year sunset on the emergency powers provided in the bill. On the definition of a cybersecurity threat, Susan Kelly of the American Public Power Association said her group favors a more narrow definition than one favored by FERC.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.