NSA Chief Questions E-Grid Safety

Industry's Ability to Protect Power Grid in Doubt, Alexander Says
NSA Chief Questions E-Grid Safety
The director of the National Security Agency suggests American electric companies might not be able to protect the power grid in the United States from a cyberattack.

"When you look at it, if you were to ask me to rank order where industries are in terms of their cybersecurity capability, I think power is at or close to the bottom of the list, not because they're bad, but because that's not a focus area for them right now," said Keith Alexander, a four-star Army general who also commands the U.S. Cyber Command. "Not only that, they don't have the technical expertise nor the government help that they need and we ought to give it to them. And, so I think that partnership is going to be key for the future."

At a cybersecurity symposium held Monday at the University of Rhode Island, Alexander spoke of an August 2003 electrical blackout that affected 45 million people in eight Eastern states and 10 million others in Ontario, aggravated by a software problem that was initially unknown to the systems operators. He also addressed an August 2009 sensing-system failure at the world's third largest hydroelectric plant at the Sayano-Shushenskaya dam in Russia, in which engineers remotely turned on a turbine that violently tore apart, causing a ceiling to collapse at the power plant, damaging eight other turbines and killing 75 people.

"What I'm concerned about: these are issues that were caused by people with good intentions," Alexander said, according to a transcript provided by the office of Rep. James Langevin. "What about those without? And there are two forms of the destruction that I'm concerned about. One is data, destroying data, and the other is equipment and I think we have to be ready for both of those."

The symposium was sponsored by two members of Rhode Island's congressional delegation, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who chaired a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence task force on cybersecurity, and Langevin, who co-founded the House Cybersecurity Caucus and co-chaired the Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency.

About the Author

Eric Chabrow

Eric Chabrow

Retired Executive Editor, GovInfoSecurity

Chabrow, who retired at the end of 2017, hosted and produced the semi-weekly podcast ISMG Security Report and oversaw ISMG's GovInfoSecurity and InfoRiskToday. He's a veteran multimedia journalist who has covered information technology, government and business.

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