Homeland Security moves to prevent attack on power grid

The Department of Homeland Security is creating a new committee dedicated to boosting digital defenses for utilities.

In a notice published in Friday’s Federal Register, the department announced that the Homeland Security Advisory Council will form a cybersecurity subcommittee as part of efforts to prevent a deadly attack on power plants or the electric grid that some have deemed a “cyber Pearl Harbor.”

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Experts say such critical infrastructure sites are increasingly at risk as electric grids get “smarter.”

National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers told lawmakers last fall that China and “one or two” other countries would be able to shut down portions of critical U.S. infrastructure with a cyberattack. Researchers suspect Iran to be on that list.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is calling for the new panel to identify how well the department’s “lifeline sectors” are prepared to meet threats and recover from a “significant cyber event.”

The committee is also tasked with providing recommendations for a more unified approach to state and local cybersecurity.

In November, the DHS warned that “numerous” critical industries might have been compromised by Russian hackers, though officials said they did not see any attempts to “damage, modify, or otherwise disrupt” any networks. Researchers say the country is testing U.S. networks for vulnerabilities.

Although there was no evidence that the Russian hackers intended to attack infrastructure, experts expressed concern that the malware went undetected for so long. ABC reported that it might have infected U.S. systems three years before it was discovered.

“There is a great deal that has been done and is being done now to secure our networks,” Johnson told the House Judiciary Committee in July. “There is more to do."