Security holes in power grid have federal officials scrambling…“When Lloyds won’t insure you, you know you’ve got a problem,”

Sunday, April 27, 2014
By Paul Martin

By Evan Halper
Saturday, April 26, 2014

WASHINGTON — Adam Crain assumed that tapping into the computer networks that power companies use to keep electricity zipping through transmission lines would be nearly impossible in these days of heightened vigilance over cybersecurity.

To his surprise, it was startlingly easy.

When Crain, the owner of a small tech firm in Raleigh, N.C., shared the discovery with beleaguered utility security officials, the Homeland Security Department began sending alerts to power-grid operators, advising them to upgrade their software.

The alerts haven’t stopped, because Crain keeps finding new security holes he can exploit.

“There are a lot of people going through various stages of denial” about how easily terrorists, or anyone, could disrupt the power grid, he said. “If I could write a tool that does this, you can be sure a nation state or someone with more resources could.”

In Congress, the vulnerability of the power grid has emerged as among the most pressing domestic security concerns. It is also among the most vexing.

At times, lawmakers appear to be working at cross purposes. Some want to empower regulators to force specific security upgrades at utilities.

Others are attacking whistle-blowers and the media, demanding an investigation into disclosures of how easily the country’s power grid could be shut down.

The magnitude of the problem is underscored by insurance giant Lloyd’s of London, whose appraisers have been making visits lately to power companies seeking protection against the risk of cyberattack. Their take-away: Security at about half the companies they visit is too weak for Lloyds to offer a policy.

“When Lloyds won’t insure you, you know you’ve got a problem,” said Patrick Miller, founder of the Energy Sector Security Consortium, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for tougher cybersecurity measures for the electricity industry.

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