Russian Hackers - Another Threat to the US Power Grid

Russian Hackers - Another Threat to the US Power Grid

On Sunday, 60 Minutes reported on the threat that Russian hackers pose to the U.S. power grid.  The story developed further on Wednesday when agencies including the U.S. Department of Energy issued an alert about new malware “Pipedream” focused on Industrial Control Systems (ICS), particularly, energy facilities.  This is one of the latest energy stories to make headline news, alongside reports of record numbers of utility-scale storage, solar, and wind power coming onto the grid.

We rely on energy as a basic necessity in modern-day society. Energy heats and cools our houses, powers our computers, powers our phones, allows us to cook, provides our transport, and more.  In the 60 Minutes interview, Jen Easterly, director of Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), explains:

“We know that… targeting the energy sector, is part of the Russian playbook… Everything that you do, hour by hour is largely dependent in some way on the critical infrastructure.  How you get gas at the local pump, how you get food at the grocery store, how you get money from your ATM, how you get your power, how you get your water, how you communicate - all of that is our critical infrastructure.  And that’s what we’re saying is at potential risk to a Russian malicious cyberattack.”

Energy and power are critical components of our functioning society, and because of this, it’s vital that we have energy security and reliability, one of the core tenets of organizations like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Independent System Operators (ISOs) and Regional Transmission Organizations (RTOs). 

Those of us familiar with the energy industry know that rapidly increasing renewable penetration and new technologies pose new reliability and security challenges to the grid, especially given the confines of our existing grid, which is limited, aging, and outdated.  Historically, the average citizen hasn’t had to give much thought to the grid, or even how electricity works.  However, as we advance into an increasingly digital world with a focus on clean energy, that is beginning to change. 

As we transition towards a clean energy economy and organized markets begin to spread further across the country, it’s not outlandish to think that in the near future individuals could be buying and selling power in wholesale markets.  Some citizens are already making electricity use decisions based on local nodal energy prices (Kelly-Detwiler) and it’s entirely possible that will continue.  In order to enable this, more and more devices will be connected to the grid, creating even more access points for malicious cyber attackers.  Moving into this evolving new wave of energy, it will likely be imperative for the average citizen to understand how electricity and the grid function - at least at a basic level.

Yes Energy has created some resources we hope will help you learn about the exciting and dynamic power industry, whether you’re just looking to learn a bit more about energy or if you’re getting started in the industry professionally.  For a brief primer on getting started as a professional in the industry, check out our blog Getting Started in a Booming Industry.  If you’re looking for something more comprehensive, or need help on a specific topic, check out our Power Markets 101 series where we cover everything from the history of power in the US to generation basics, to different energy products that are tradeable in today’s markets.  We hope you find these resources helpful and that they empower you to make informed decisions about this evolving, dynamic, and critical resource. 

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