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APPA, others question paper alleging gaps in grid cybersecurity

From the May 22, 2013 issue of Public Power Daily

Originally published May 22, 2013

By Robert Varela
Editorial Director

A paper issued by Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Ed Markey, D-Mass., alleging gaps in grid cybersecurity "did not reflect a thorough examination of the work our industry has done to protect our critical infrastructure from attack," APPA said yesterday. The electric utility industry must comply with an extensive list of mandatory cybersecurity standards and will "continue to closely coordinate at high levels both amongst members of our industry and with the federal government on cyber and physical security," APPA said.

"As not-for-profit electric utilities that are owned and operated by the communities they serve, members of the American Public Power Association remain steadfast in their commitment to protecting our critical infrastructure from cyber-attack," APPA said.

While Waxman and Markey based their paper on utilities’ voluntary responses to a questionnaire they sent out in January, many of the questions "were so specific and confidential in nature that, for security reasons, they could not be answered by our members for fear of potentially violating the very standards with which the government has mandated us to comply," APPA said. Drawing broad conclusions "about the electric sector’s, and public power’s, level of security is therefore misleading. We are placing, and will continue to place, the highest priority on ensuring the security and resiliency of our electric systems."

"One of the things we know is that cybersecurity is uniquely ill-suited for federal regulation," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., at a May 21 House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on cybersecurity. "Rapid changes in technology guarantee the failure of static, prescriptive approaches," she said. "Our focus should be on developing consensus public policy that puts American businesses in the driver’s seat and allows cooperation and collaboration, not top-down and one-size-fits all mandates."

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association said it agreed with the testimony of National Institute of Standards and Technology Executive Director Patrick Gallagher that a strong industry-led approach offers the best defense against cyber threats. "Press statements such as the one issued this morning by Rep. Markey may generate headlines in an election year but do little to further the cause; in fact they serve to divide industry and government at a time when cooperation is in America’s best interest," NRECA said.

The paper by Markey and Waxman said the "electric grid is the target of numerous and daily cyber attacks." Based on responses to their questionnaire, the paper alleged that most utilities comply with mandatory standards but fewer comply with additional voluntary standards. However, the paper mixed in responses from utilities that said they did not own critical infrastructure subject to the standards.


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Senior Vice President, Publishing 
Jeanne Wickline LaBella

Editorial Director
Robert Varela

Editor, Public Power Daily
Jeannine Anderson

Communications Assistant
Fallon W. Forbush

Manager, Integrated Media 
David L. Blaylock

Integrated Media Editor 
Laura D’Alessandro