One reason the first power grid attack in the Ukraine was short-lived is because workers were able to head out to substations and manually restart a system a digital cyber attack forced down.
Having a more manual back up is the thought process behind a bill introducing analog stopgaps and redundancies.
A measure passed the Senate in late December. The Securing Energy Infrastructure Act was introduced last year by Sens. Angus King, I-Maine, and Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and approved by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in March.
The bill requires the Energy secretary to establish a two-year pilot program to look at analog, nondigital and physical systems that can end up incorporated into the power grid to mitigate the potential effects of a cyberattack — what its authors have called a “retro” approach.
As mentioned, the Sentate bill came about after a 2015 cyberattack in Ukraine took down a significant portion of the country’s energy grid. Operators were able to get the systems back online relatively quickly using human-powered backups.
“For years we’ve seen the danger of cyberattacks grow as bad actors pursue larger and more sophisticated incursions on our vital systems, but the federal government’s response has not matched the severity of these threats,” King said after the Senate vote. “This commonsense, bipartisan bill is an important step in the right direction, and will help protect America’s critical infrastructure from devastating attacks before they happen.”
The bill gives the secretary 180 days from enactment to establish the program, which would be led by the Energy Department national laboratories in partnership with volunteers from the energy sector — from power stations to manufacturers in the supply chain.
The legislation also calls for the creation of a federal working group to assess the recommendations from the partnership. That 10-member group would include representatives from the departments of Energy, Homeland Security and Defense, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation.
The bill, which now must go before the House, includes a $10 million appropriation for the pilot program and $1.5 million for the working group.
A companion bill was introduced in the House last year but has yet to make it out of committee.