A division of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation indicated in a recent study that physical attacks on the U.S. power grid spiked by 71% in 2022 over the previous year, reported the Wall Street Journal.
According to the grid oversight body's Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center division, vandalism, ballistic damage, and intrusion drove the increase.
What's the background?
NewsNation noted that Duke Energy Florida experienced several "substation intrusion events' in September. For instance, on Sept. 21, an intruder busted into the Zephyrhills North substation in Pasco County, Florida, sabotaging equipment that resulted in a nine-minute-long outage.
Substations convert high-voltage electricity into lower voltages for use by businesses and residences.
According to Central Oregon Daily, one of the Bonneville Power Administration's substations in Clackamas County, Oregon, was hit on Nov. 24.
John Lahti, BPA transmission vice president of field services, said, "Someone clearly wanted to damage equipment and, possibly, cause a power outage."
In early December, vandals attacked substations in Moore County, North Carolina, with gunfire, leaving 45,000 people without power.
Four electric substations in western Washington were reportedly attacked on Christmas Day, depriving over 17,000 of power in Pierce County alone.
Pierce County sheriff's deputies observed signs of forced entry at all four substations, noting that equipment had been vandalized, but "nothing had been taken," reported USA Today.
Additional attacks have been prevented.
TheBlaze reported earlier this month that a Florida man with neo-Nazi links and a Maryland woman were charged with conspiracy to attack the Maryland power grid. Brandon Clint Russell, of Orlando, Florida, allegedly planned to trigger a "cascading failure" by attacking a small number of substations. He reportedly discussed hitting multiple substations simultaneously to maximize the impact of the infrastructure attack.
There were at least 108 human-related events reported during the first eight months of 2022, compared with 99 in 2021. WSOC-TV reported that by year end, there were 163 reported incidents of physical attack, vandalism, suspicious activity, or sabotage on the U.S. grid.
The North American Electric Reliability Corporation suggested that these attacks are part of a worsening trend.
Knocking your lights out
The NERC is a not-for-profit international regulatory authority mandated with assuring the reliability of the North American grid, which powers both the United States and Canada, as well as the northern portion of Baja California, Mexico.
The NERC 2022 Annual Report released Tuesday states, "Increasingly bold adversaries regularly employ new tactics, techniques, and procedures; they are also exploiting new and legacy vulnerabilities. As a result of sector interdependencies, grid evolution, and an expanding supply chain, the threat surface as well as the potential magnitude of impacts has increased."
E-ISAC, a division of the NERC, recently noted a 20% spike in physical security incidents involving power outages since 2020.
E-ISAC's confidential analysis, obtained by CBS News, suggested that the "smaller 20% increase (2020 to 2022) is due to the high number of serious incidents that occurred during 2020 that can be attributed to the onset of COVID, increased social tensions and a decline in economic condition."
In 2022, however, an "unusual" number of "repeat and clustered attacks" beset energy infrastructure in the Southeast, Midwest, and Pacific Northwest with "individual sites being repeatedly targeted or multiple sites being targeted within close proximity to one another."
E-ISAC reportedly "assesses with medium confidence that the recent uptick in serious physical security incidents is likely to continue into 2023 based on the number and nature of recent attacks combined with the overall current heightened threat environment."
Manny Cancel, E-ISAC's chief executive, told the Wall Street Journal, "There seems to be a pattern where people are targeting critical infrastructure, probably with the intent to disrupt. ... Going back to the 2020 presidential election, as well as the recent midterm elections, we’ve seen an uptick in chatter and an uptick in incidents as well."
While there is an alarming number of ideologically-motivated attacks, Cancel told WSOC, "The overwhelming majority are petty vandalism, theft, particularly copper theft. ... A lot of break-ins to do that, occasionally arson or damage, but that is primarily what we’re seeing."
According to E-ISAC, 97% of incidents "resulted in no disruption of service."
Brian Harrell, former assistant secretary for infrastructure protection at the Department of Homeland Security, told CBS News, "It's important to note that new fencing, cameras, or better lighting isn't going to prevent attacks. They will continue to happen. ... This is why we must invest in resilience, adding redundancy, and removing single points of failure. Certain attacks on critical infrastructure should be legally treated as domestic terrorism."
Extra to physical attacks, the U.S. has to contend with virtual threats.
While the "U.S. electric grid is actually very resilient ... cyber-risks are increasing constantly because as we become more connected, more digitally controlled, that does introduce a cyber-risk that we have to start to manage," Puesh Kumar, director of the Energy Department's Office of Cybersecurity, Energy, Security and Emergency Response, told NPR last month.
Power grid stations in Washington falling victim to recent attacks after FBI warningyoutu.be
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