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Energy And Commerce Oversight Committee continues cyber security hearings

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Monday, March 05, 2012

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations continued its series of hearings last week in order to assess the existing cyber security threats and vulnerabilities to the nation's critical infrastructure, Renew Grid Magazine reports.

The session of hearings, titled "Critical Infrastructure Cyber Security: Assessments of Smart Grid Security," is discussing the threats that could ultimately weaken the U.S. electric infrastructure's ability to ward off cyber attacks. The hearings were scheduled after James R. Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, reported there has been a significant increase in cyber activity targeting U.S. computers and systems in recent years. Clapper stated that the volume of malicious software has more than tripled since 2009.

In the hearings, Gregory Wilshusen, director of information technology at the Government Accountability Office, stated investments from utilities, private companies and the government have made an impact on smart grid security, according to the news source.

"While these initiatives hold the promise of significant benefits, including a more resilient electric grid, lower energy costs, and the ability to tap into alternative sources of power, the prevalence of cyber threats aimed at the nation's critical infrastructure and the cyber vulnerabilities arising from the use of new technologies highlight the importance of securing smart grid systems," Wilshusen said.

Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns added that the major benefits of the smart grid, including efficiency, reliability and interoperability, will be made null if utilities cannot eliminate the risk of man-made or natural cyber security threats.

At the hearing, officials referenced past attacks as a warning for what could be in store. The panel detailed Stuxnet, which targeted control systems used to operate industrial processes in the energy and nuclear sectors in 2010, and a 2003 incident in which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission stated the Microsoft SQL Server worm Slammer infected a plant in Oak Harbor, Ohio.

The severity of potential cyber attacks has led to the development of a new testing facility in Tennessee, which allows workers to dismantle and test smart grid equipment for security, in addition to reliability, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

SUBNET helps utilities ensure cyber security by complying with regulations drafted by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) for critical infrastructure protection. SUBNET allows utilities to use established corporate IT policies to meet these regulations. 

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