Rick Perry Says This New Cyber Security Office Can Protect The US Grid From Russia. But Can It?

Tim Pearce | Energy Reporter

Energy Secretary Rick Perry claimed Tuesday that a new office created under his agency could defend the U.S. energy grid against cyber attacks from hostile powers such as Russia.

The new agency, the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response (CESER), was announced in February, however, Perry discussed it again during a Senate hearing in front of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Perry attended the hearing to defend his department’s budget for Fiscal Year 2019.

“Last year I promised to step up and maintain America’s energy infrastructure in the face of all hazards,” Perry said. “So this year, we requested funding increases to strengthen cyber-security as well as the agencies’ cyber defenses. We’re establishing a new Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response.”

CESER is the DOE’s response to challenges and threats to the electrical grid. Last week, the U.S. accused Russia for launching multiple attacks on its power grid stretching back at least two years. The accusation was a first between the two world powers.

“There is a clear role that DOE plays on cyber,” Perry said. “We are committed to being as technically advanced as possible and it’s the reason we request the funding and the reason we have structured the department as such to clearly send the message that this is important and we are going to fund it as such.”

Committee Ranking Member Democrat Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington seized on the subject and said Perry’s proposed 10 percent increase in cybersecurity funding still “wildly” underfunded the initiative. She advocated for a full doubling of investment and pushed for the DOE to complete a full assessment of the threats posed by cyber attacks on the grid.

“Here you’re sitting with a 10 percent increase and no threat assessment,” Cantwell told Perry. “So what can we do to get a better understanding of the real risks and an accurate budget increase to fund what is critical, critical to our national security?”

Perry defended the plan, saying that other funding initiatives were directly or indirectly tied to cyber security, such as increasing investment in growing the DOE’s capacity to manage data, called exascale computing.

“The fact is, we are spending some dollars in other areas of our budget that are going to have real, concrete affect on cyber,” Perry said. “It’s not just in that line item.”

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