Lawmakers seek red team testing of vulnerable grid networks

Senators want to craft authorities for federal agencies and private power infrastructure providers to allow more cybersecurity testing of energy grid network security.

By Iren Moroz shutterstock ID 566799760

Lawmakers are looking to regulators to support red team testing of energy grid networks for cyber vulnerabilities.

"No one's testing," said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee at an Aug. 5 hearing.

"Legacy grid systems were not designed to defend themselves against modern cyberattacks and, as they grow more and more connected to the internet, our electric systems grow more and more vulnerable," Manchin said.

Alexander Gates, senior policy advisor, at the Energy Department's Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response (CESER) agency said that government authority to test the security of private utilities "has limitations."

Thomas O'Brien, senior vice president and CIO of energy transport provider PJM Interconnection that moves electricity around 13 states testified that his organization performs "extensive" red teaming and penetration testing of its own networks.

"Red team, hackers for hire -- we need more of it," said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) King said the Energy Department or the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), or both, should have the authorities to perform such tests on networks.

King is also concerned with natural gas pipeline security. Those pipelines, he said, are a crucial part of the energy infrastructure, but are regulated by the Transportation Security Administration. But that agency, as has been documented in oversight reports, does not devote extensive resources to that activity. King suggested that He suggested TSA's current authority over pipelines might be better exercised by FERC. King is not the first lawmaker to make this observation and indeed even officials at FERC have suggested that they should take over the pipeline security function.

"We need a hearing on natural gas pipeline security," said King. "I'm concerned we don't have the same level of standards and testing as we do for the electrical grid."