Trump holds meeting to address power grid cyber threats

Trump holds meeting to address power grid cyber threats
© Getty Images

President Trump met with energy sector leaders and cybersecurity experts on Wednesday to focus on combating threats to the U.S. power grid. 

The meeting occurred about a week after security researchers identified the malware tied to a cyberattack on Ukraine’s power grid last year that, with slight modifications, could be used to disrupt the U.S. electric grid. 

Trump met with homeland security and counterterrorism adviser Tom Bossert, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), former National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander and energy leaders to address the sector’s “resilience and cybersecurity,” according to a readout of the meeting from the White House. 

Energy infrastructure is identified as critical by the federal government and is largely owned and operated by private-sector companies. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) engages with the private sector in order to ensure the protection of elements of critical infrastructure such as the electric grid.

“President Trump thanked the participants in the meeting for their efforts and underscored the importance of a continuing public and private partnership to effectively combat threats against the energy sector, particularly the power grid,” the White House said in the readout. 

“In the meeting, the leaders discussed unique challenges the sector faces and strategic initiatives, both underway and proposed, to address the evolution of malicious cyber activity,” the White House said.

ADVERTISEMENT
Trump is said to have communicated his desire to improve existing partnerships between the public and private sectors to protect critical infrastructure during the meeting. 

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have raised concerns about threats to the U.S. power grid in the wake of successful cyberattacks on Ukraine’s power grid in 2015 and 2016, both of which are widely believed to have been orchestrated by Russia. 

Last Monday, cybersecurity firms ESET and Dragos released research identifying the “Crash Override” or “Industroyer” malware that knocked down power in Kiev for about an hour last December.

The discovery of the malware triggered an immediate response from the government and electric industry. The computer emergency readiness team at DHS, for example, warned that the malware “could be modified to target U.S. critical information networks and systems.”

The malware would need to target multiple elements of the U.S. electrical grid in order to cause widespread outages, and outages would likely only occur for hours or days. 

The White House did not indicate whether the malware was specifically discussed during the meeting. 

Later Wednesday, the president of the American Gas Association said in a statement that the meeting was "constructive," complimenting Trump for focusing on the issue. 

"Natural gas utilities have a responsibility to their customers and communities for safe, reliable delivery of natural gas, and just as with pipeline safety, natural gas utilities apply layers of resilience for cybersecurity by employing a portfolio of tools to help improve the prevention, detection and mitigation of cyber penetration," Dave McCurdy, the association's president and CEO, said. "We are proud of the strong and effective public-private partnerships in place, coordination which is helping advance security, and we look forward to continued work with President Trump and his staff on this important topic."

Trump has previously sought to address the issue of critical infrastructure cybersecurity with the signing of an executive order in May, which, among other things, ordered an assessment of the country’s preparedness to respond to a significant cyber incident resulting in a prolonged power outage.