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Cyber attack could be as crippling as Sandy, investigator says

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Thursday, November 01, 2012

With electric utilities still struggling to recover from the detrimental effects of Hurricane Sandy, one expert recently announced the findings of an investigation that showed a cyber attack could cause as much - if not more - damage to the grid than a natural disaster.

According to NBC affiliate WKYC 3, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently spoke on the dangers of cyber attacks. With more nations using the internet, a new generation of cyber criminals is on the horizon. These attackers are using both new and traditional spying techniques to make their way into computer networks at power companies and grid infrastructure that is responsible for the flow of power throughout the country.

If the U.S. does not take these threats seriously, it could lead to what Panetta described as "cyber Pearl Harbor," with many experts agreeing that a well-executed cyber attack could devastate the nation's electric grid for many months.

"They're looking for system vulnerabilities, whether that's for the ability to affect power production (or) to take down the grid," said Todd A. Snitchler, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

According to the media outlet, the National Security Agency recently stated that computer hackers are working harder than ever to find a way to take out America's electric grid, with attacks on the power network growing 17-fold in only the last two years.

"They're growing from disruptive to destructive and our country has the bulk of this network," Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA chief, told the Aspen Security Forum in August. "We're the most vulnerable and we need to do something about it."

In this period, nine utilities reported cyber attacks they deemed were serious enough to alert the federal government, according to figures from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has added that the number of cyber incidents that impacted electric companies' control systems has grown from only three in 2009 to a startling 25 in 2011.

To mitigate the risks of such attacks, NERC has developed strict regulations power companies must adhere to, designed to ensure a more reliable and safer electric grid. Failure to meet these NERC CIP regulations can lead to fines of up to $1 million per day until the problem is addressed. SUBNET's products are designed to meet these standards, helping utilities comply with federal regulations and create a more secure electric grid.

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