Murkowski: Cybersecurity a Priority in the 116th Congress

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, yesterday chaired a hearing to examine the status and outlook of efforts to protect our nation’s energy infrastructure from cyber threats and attacks. The hearing featured Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Neil Chatterjee, Department of Energy (DOE) Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER) Karen Evans, and representatives from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), the West Virginia National Guard, and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL).

“We know that the threat of cyberattacks by our foreign adversaries and other sophisticated entities is real and growing,” Murkowski said. “The consequences of a successful cyber-incursion would be widespread and devastating. The resulting loss of power would impact hospitals, banks, cell phone service, gas pumps, traffic lights – you name it.”

In her opening remarks, Murkowski referenced the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment, which details how China, Russia, and other foreign rivals are targeting our critical infrastructure through cyber operations. The assessment also notes that the U.S. electric grid and natural gas pipelines are particularly vulnerable to attack.

In his testimony, FERC Chairman Chatterjee noted that “while I think both industry and government have made significant strides toward addressing this issue, I believe more work still needs to be done.”

NERC President and CEO James Robb said, “Grid security is inextricably linked to reliability. To date, there has not been any loss of load in North America that can be attributed to a cyberattack. At the same time, the security landscape is dynamic, requiring constant vigilance and agility.”

SEL CEO David Whitehead emphasized the importance of innovation and creativity in addressing cybersecurity. He noted that SEL boldly displays this quote in its offices: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

“Protecting our nation’s critical assets is a shared responsibility, with federal, state, and private sector partners working together to improve cyber defenses and coordinate responses to cyberattacks,” Murkowski said. “We need to determine how we can stay ahead of the bad actors, which will require us to be vigilant, flexible, and ready to share information to respond quickly, efficiently, and effectively.”

The Trump administration has taken a number of steps to address emerging cyber threats, including the creation of DOE’s CESER office last year. DOE and FERC are now partnering to identify solutions to combat cyber and physical security risks, and incentivize investments in cybersecurity technologies. 

Murkowski is chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. An archived video of yesterday’s hearing can be found on the committee’s website. Click here and here to view Murkowski’s questions for the witnesses.

Related Issues: Energy