Puerto Rico not immune to electric grid foreign attacks

by | Apr 13, 2018 | Federal Government | Comments

In the ongoing diplomatic row between the United States and Russia, which now includes the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats from the country in response to a recent nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy living in the UK, the role of hackers in the Russian interference scandal vis-à-vis Puerto Rico remains unclear.

Besides the intelligence community’s consensus on the looming Russian threat on the 2018 midterm elections, there is a significant threat to the US power grid by Russian hackers. The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have recently announced that Russian hackers are engaging in a long-term campaign against the United States.

Hacking directed at the energy sector appears to have arrived in US territories as well. PREPA, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, has recently suffered a cyber attack in which no customer data was compromised. While there is no evidence at the time of publication that Russia-linked hackers were behind the cyber attack on PREPA, former Executive Director Justo Gonzalez Torres explained that investigations into the source of the attack were being deferred to corresponding authorities.

Regardless of whether or not the Russian government is behind the recent string of hackings into the US energy grid, it is clear that the time for action towards a hardening of the grid is now. In a recent hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sens. Warner (D) of Virginia and Collins (R) of Maine pressed current US Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Neilsen and former Obama-era Secretary Jeh Johnson on the overall state of national security against Russian hacking. While both secretaries agreed on the real threat of continued Russian hacking, Secretary Nielsen assured the panel of senators that her department is working to assess vulnerability and provide support at the request of individual states.

Despite the assurances of top government officials, there have been many frustrations expressed by experts on the lack of urgency in Congress and relevant regulatory agencies to both protect the upcoming midterm elections and the US power grid. While efforts to do so are undeniably ongoing, the question then becomes: are we moving fast enough?