House Dems Call for Info on Racially-Motivated Cyber Attacks

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Several House lawmakers tasked DHS and CISA with providing information on “racially- or ethnically- motivated” violent attacks on the U.S. electrical sector.

Democrat lawmakers are asking for an agency briefing to help gauge the level of domestic extremist threats to critical infrastructure on a physical and digital scale, particularly within the energy sector. 

Reps. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., and Seth Magaziner, D-R.I., sent a letter requesting that the Office of Intelligence and Analysis within the Department of Homeland Security work in tandem with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to provide more information on domestic attacks on critical infrastructure linked to extremism activity and beliefs. 

Citing a recent attempt by two individuals to sabotage the electrical grids in Baltimore, Maryland that the Justice Department  deemed as racially motivated, the lawmakers want to learn more about the prominence of attempted disruptions linked to domestic extremists. 

“Together, I&A and CISA have the tools, resources, intelligence and expertise that can be brought to bear in protecting targeted energy infrastructure against domestic extremists,” the letter reads. “Given the alarming rise of domestic violent extremism and in attacks against critical infrastructure generally, and the energy sector in particular, I&A and CISA have essential roles in ensuring SLTTs are informed and prepared to prevent attacks against electrical facilities.”

Protecting critical infrastructure on a physical and cyber level has been a popular topic on Capitol Hill and in the federal government at large. Following the landmark 2020 Colonial Oil Pipeline cyberattacks, more malicious actors have hacked and disrupted the digital activity of industries from health care to transportation. The letter notes that the Department of Energy counted 163 direct physical attacks on electrical infrastructure in 2022 alone.

While many of these cyber incidents have been linked to foreign actors—namely from adversaries like Russia, Iran and North Korea—the lawmakers are looking for more intel on the domestic threat level. 

Despite the prevalence on foreign cyber interference and hacks, federal agencies have been cognizant of the threat of domestic cyberattacks on critical infrastructure systems as well. In September of 2022, CISA officials noted that threats to election security often come from malicious actors both at home and abroad. 

The lawmakers added that, in addition to a broad assessment of the threat landscape to the energy sector, they also request more information on how prevalent the racial, ethnic and other ideological motivations are to the ongoing cyber attacks.