China is ‘Big Threat’ to Energy Industry, Cybersecurity Official Says

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The US energy industry must shore up protection against cyberattacks from China, a more pressing concern than attacks from Russia amid its war on Ukraine, according to a senior government cybersecurity official.

“The big threat we all need to be concerned about is China,” Jen Easterly, director of the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said during a dinner event Thursday at CeraWeek by S&P Global. “Russia is the hurricane and China is climate change.”

Amid heightened security concerns in East Asia that China may consider an invasion of Taiwan, Easterly said a key lesson from Ukraine is that China would need to put American infrastructure at risk to increase the chances of a successful campaign against the region it considers a breakaway province. There haven’t been any significant cyberattacks from Russia, which has avoided escalating a conflict with the US, she said. Her comments came as intelligence officials told lawmakers this week that China was the country’s top threat.

While many energy firms responded to CISA’s Shields Up campaign introduced last year, a call to arms inspired by Star Trek, critical industries including power providers need to build redundancies and manual overrides to withstand attacks, she said. Executives also need to embrace national security as a matter of corporate governance.

Exelon Corp. is also seeking to put this into practice for physical attacks, after law enforcement agencies last month thwarted a neo-Nazi couple’s planned attack on the company’s Baltimore power grid. The company ran a simulation of the attack to find ways to isolate the impact and prevent widespread failures, Chief Executive Officer Calvin Butler said in an interview at CeraWeek. That included positioning transformer supplies and other equipment across its wide geographic footprint.

“We know exactly where those organizations want to target because they think the grid is a way to cause chaos,” he said. “We think about that all the time.”

Photo: The Calpine Los Medanos Energy Center natural gas-fired power plant in Pittsburg, California. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Copyright 2023 Bloomberg.


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