Lawmakers fear power grid could fall to cyber attack

ADVERTISEMENT
Many electrical networks now operate on "smart grid" technology, which relies on computers to determine electrical needs. The technology is more energy efficient, but makes the systems vulnerable to cyber attacks.

Gregory Wilshusen and David Trimble, officials at the Government Accountability Office, testified that there is not a coordinated approach to developing cybersecurity standards and that electrical companies often do not share cybersecurity information. 

When lawmakers pressed for information about how many cyber attacks there have been on electrical companies, the witnesses said there is no way to know because there is no official data collection.

Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, said earlier this month that the hacker group Anonymous could have the capability to cause power outages through cyber attacks within a year or two.

The group has denied any intention of attacking the electrical grid.

The Senate is preparing to vote on a cybersecurity bill that would give the Homeland Security Department regulatory authority over companies with computer systems crucial to the nation's economic and physical security.

The bill would require that the companies take adequate precautions to safeguard their systems, and would increase information-sharing about cyberthreats between the private sector and the government.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to bring the legislation straight to the Senate floor, skipping any committee markups. 

Several leading GOP senators have argued that the legislation should be reworked in committee, but the bill's supporters say Congress must move quickly to address the threat of cyber attacks. The supporters note that Congress has been working on the cybersecurity issue for several years.

Cybersecurity legislation in the House has focused mostly on providing incentives for industry to share information on threats and attacks, rather than creating new regulatory powers.