Federal officials described the difficulties posed by the threat of a cyber attack on the nation’s electrical grid in a congressional hearing on Thursday.
“If the goal of the ‘bad guys’ is to collapse the U.S. economic system, they are going to try to cut off the power,” said Rep. Lou Barletta, chair of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee that held the hearing. “There have been reports of hacking attempts on electrical facilities by foreign and domestic parties.”
In the United States, there has not yet been a successful cyber attack that has had a widespread impact on infrastructure. Experts and officials including NSA Director Mike Rogers have repeatedly warned of the danger, however.
Seven Iranians were charged in March over cyber attacks on banks, as well as against a small dam located in Rye, New York. Hackers launched an attack on Ukrainian power companies last December and knocked out electricity for about 225,000 customers, a review by the Department of Homeland Security found.
“We’ve not had a lot of experience with cyber,” Federal Emergency Management Agency head Craig Fugate said in response to questions from lawmakers on Thursday about how FEMA would respond in the wake of an attack.
The best way to prepare for the aftermath of a cyber attack on the nation’s power systems is to build up the same emergency plans and supplies the government uses after other major disasters, like hurricanes and earthquakes, Fugate said.
“The most effective way for the federal government to plan for and respond to the potentially life-threatening physical consequences of a cyber incident on our nation’s power grid is to be as prepared as possible to handle the consequences of any type of catastrophic event, regardless of the cause,” Fugate said.