Senate Dems say GOP budget exposes electric grid to hackers


Republicans are short-changing the U.S. electrical grid millions of dollars needed to protect it from cyberattacks, two Democratic senators warned on Wednesday.

“It makes no sense,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) during a Wednesday conference call with reporters. “This is time to get serious.”

{mosads}The two parties are currently battling over an Energy and Water Development funding bill. Stabenow and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) are trying to raise alarms about the dangers of using sequestration-level funding for energy grid reliability.

It’s a prospect, they say, that would leave the U.S. lagging behind other countries in defending its grid from potential cyberattacks.

“The reality is that this is a system that is not as well protected as it should be,” Heinrich said. “This is a grid that evolved over 100 years and much of it is based on fairly simple technology.”

The two senators said the Republican budget would include cuts to critical cybersecurity programs, including the development of a “virtual forensics platform,” intended to detect malicious actors sitting on the network, he said.

Stabenow said the GOP’s budget would strip $11 million from an Energy Department program, known as the Cybersecurity for Energy Delivery Systems, which aims to research and develop tools to shield the grid from digital assaults.

“These federal programs are designed to plug the holes in the dyke as quickly as possible,” Heinrich added.

Hackers from at least Russia and China have already infiltrated utilities’ networks across the U.S. Security researchers say it’s part of an ongoing attempt to poke and prod U.S. systems for vulnerabilities, gathering valuable information about the country’s infrastructure along the way.

To this point, the hackers “have not shown the intent” to launch a destructive attack, such as causing a targeted power outage, said Heinrich, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

However, “we have to take those threats seriously and have to be prepared to defend our grid should that intent be manifested in a real event,” he said.

Republicans are standing behind their Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill, which passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee in May by a 26-4 vote.

After it cleared committee, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), who chairs the Appropriations panel, called the measure “forward-looking” on energy security, “despite limited resources.”

“Governing is about setting priorities,” added Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who chairs the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee. “This legislation does just that by complying with the spending caps in the Budget Control Act while supporting energy, waterways and national security.”

Tags Debbie Stabenow electric grid Martin Heinrich

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