The Department of Homeland Security said the U.S. power grid is not under threat from the historic cyberattack that recently took out a portion of Ukraine’s power grid.
The December digital assault, widely believed to be the first example of hackers causing a widespread power outage, put energy companies around the world on edge as U.S. officials flew in to assist with the investigation.
The attack “should be, and must be, a wake-up call for those who haven’t already been awakened by this problem and this risk,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Tuesday at a Senate hearing about his agency’s budget.
The DHS concluded the malicious software that downed the grid in Ukraine has not extended to the U.S. for the time being.
In a blog post, the agency said it was planning an “expanded outreach campaign” to discuss the Ukraine incident with all critical infrastructure industries.
“We are working with critical infrastructure all the time,” Johnson said on Tuesday. “I’ve spoken to CEOs and utilities about this problem.”
“There’s certainly more to do,” he added.
The Ukraine outage caused roughly 200,000 households to lose power for up to six hours. Researchers and Ukranian authorities have blamed Russia for the digital assault, but the DHS has not publicly named a suspect.
Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble Liberal group launches campaign urging Republicans to support Biden's agenda Domestic extremists return to the Capitol MORE (R-Wis.), who was overseeing the hearing, suggested he would explore legislative options to help bolster U.S. grid security.
“I want to work very closely with you over the next few months to do whatever we can legislatively in working with your department,” he told the Homeland Security head.
In the last few years, policymakers have been searching for ways to secure the nation’s power grid from a major cyberattack as security experts repeatedly warn the industry’s digital defenses are dangerously lagging and underfunded.
National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers has told lawmakers that China and likely “one or two” other countries are currently sitting on the grid, with the ability to literally turn out the lights if they wanted to.
Johnson pressed the DHS chief about what steps the agency has taken to thwart this scenario.
“Where are we on that?” he asked.
“Better than we were, but there’s more to do,” Johnson replied, citing better partnerships with the private sector and a freer flow of data between government and industry.
“We’re in a better place than we were,” he said.