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Protect Utilities From Attack

In December 2022, the electrical grid in Moore County, N.C., came under attack as assailants fired guns at two electrical substations, damaging the system and leaving thousands without electrical power for days. 

The attack was far from isolated. The U.S. Department of Energy tracks electrical service disruption from vandalism, physical attacks or suspicious activity, and the number of incidents rose to 163 nationwide in 2022 — a 77% rise from 2021. Concerns about attacks on electrical utilities, and the potential for these attacks to disrupt the lives and livelihoods of residents, has led to several bills in the General Assembly — S330, S331 and H3577 — establishing offenses and penalties for intentionally damaging utility systems. 

Energy utilities are not the only infrastructure that might be targeted. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has called attention to other systems needing protection such as water systems where attackers might aim to disrupt service or contaminate the supply, transportation systems or even emergency services. 

Here are some issues utility operators can consider to reduce the risks of attacks:

Make sure that utility facilities have appropriate defenses. This can be as simple as walls, fences, motion detectors, alarm systems or security cameras. One of the bills now in the General Assembly, H3577, would require electrical utilities that own or operate electrical substations to operate security cameras at the substations. 

Prepare for equipment replacement when possible. Electric utilities often participate in programs that share equipment, with one example being the Edison Electric Institute’s Spare Transformer Equipment Program. 

Don’t forget the cybersecurity needs. The rate of cyberattacks on governmental systems has grown in recent years, and attackers are increasingly aware of the potential for IT system intrusions to disrupt utility systems. Cybersecurity defenses for utilities have emerged to be as important as physical defenses. 

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, established by the Department of Homeland Security in 2018, has resources to help utilities protect systems from physical and cyberattacks.