Cantwell Continues Call for Greater Cybersecurity for Grid, Critical Infrastructure

Experts: Cyberattacks are not just theoretical, happening in United States

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, during a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing on cybersecurity, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) continued her call for urgent action to defend American energy infrastructure against potential cyberattacks.

Cantwell questioned Eric Rosenbach, the former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security, about the possibility of a cyberattack similar to recent attacks in Kiev, Ukraine happening in the United States.

In 2015, the Russians reportedly hacked into three Ukrainian distribution utilities, knocking power out to more than 225,000 customers for several hours. Two months ago, a utility in northern Kiev reported that their grid was brought down as a result of a cyberattack that was very similar to the alleged Russian attack in 2015.

Rosenbach responded that the cyberattack on Ukraine were similar to cyberattacks on the networks of critical infrastructure operators in the United States.

“It’s not just a theoretical case that it could happen. It could happen and in the United States, because the critical infrastructure networks are so much more highly automated, the damage could be even more severe.”

Cantwell also discussed emerging technologies being used in cyberattacks to cause large scale disruption and chaos.

“In some cases on this critical infrastructure, they’ve [experts] talked about the disruption that malware could do to an actual natural gas or oil pipeline and other critical infrastructure,” said Cantwell.

“I think critical infrastructure is, and I mean that broadly as in dams, power grids, electrical grids, that is a big area of vulnerability for us. And I absolutely don’t think we are fully prepared,” added Venky Ganesan, who serves as the chair of the National Venture Capital Association.

As ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Cantwell has fought to bolster the United States energy infrastructure against potential cyberattacks. Last week, Cantwell and Senator Ron Wyden urged the Trump administration do more to defend our critical energy infrastructure against cyberattacks.

In addition, Cantwell is currently drafting legislation that would, among other things, provide sufficient funding, develop the 21st century energy cyber-workforce, secure the energy supply chain and help small utilities better protect against cyberattacks.

Last year, Chairman Murkowski and Ranking Member Cantwell passed a bipartisan energy bill out of the Senate to invest in our energy infrastructure and cybersecurity. Unfortunately, House Speaker Paul Ryan blocked the legislation as we were completing work in conference. “It was very very disappointing that they did not see the urgency of this issue,” Sen. Cantwell said.