The Feds Are Studying How Fast The Grid Could Bounce Back After A Cyberattack

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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The Trump administration is vetting the electric grid’s ability to quickly bounce back from a massive cyberattack amid speculation Russian agents have been targeting U.S. power plants.

Officials at the Department of Energy are crafting an exercise called “Liberty Eclipse” to “simulate the painstaking process of re-energizing the power grid while squaring off against simultaneous cyberattack,” E&E News wrote in an Aug. 3 report. The exercise will take place in November on Plum Island, a small island located in New York.

“It’s in our national security interest to continue to protect these sources of energy and to deliver them around the world,” Energy Secretary Rick Perry said at a cybersecurity conference in New York in early August. “Taking care of that infrastructure, from the standpoint of protecting it from cyberattacks — I don’t think it’s ever been more important than it is today.”

The exercise comes as natural gas production has taken up the primary source of energy production in the U.S. The increase in natural gas-fired power generation has complicated reliability testing, according to grid reliability consultant David Hilt. (RELATED: Officials Investigating Possible Cyberattack At Pyeongchang Winter Olympics)

“There are obviously some cybersecurity concerns, from both sides … the natural gas is pumped up the pipeline by electric pumps,” Hilt told E&E News. “From an interdependency standpoint: Is everybody working together, and does everybody understand where the critical paths might be?”

He added: “I think it’s good that DOE and others do these [exercises], because utilities need to get organized.” Hilt’s concerns come as reports suggest Russia and other foreign countries are interested in targeting the grid. The New York Times, for instance, reported in July that Russia was turning its sights away from U.S. elections and toward the country’s electric grid.

The Department of Homeland Security noted in July that Russia’s military intelligence agency had infiltrated the control rooms of power plants across the United States. There is no evidence that the hackers tried to take over the plants, as Russian actors did in Ukraine in 2015 and 2016.

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