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Protecting the Nation’s Electric Grid From Cyberattacks: OpEd

Electricity electric grid
Guy Crittenden | Workbook | Getty Images

Protecting the nation's electric grid and ensuring a reliable supply of energy are top priorities for the electric power industry. As owners and operators of the nation's most critical infrastructure, electric utilities appreciate President Obama's decision to issue a cybersecurity executive order as a step toward improving government-industry coordination.

But, this order doesn't preclude the need for Congress also to act on this issue.

(Read More: 10 Ways Companies Get Hacked)

While the executive order will improve the flow of classified threat information between the government and the private sector, Congress will still need to address statutory changes to encourage this information sharing, focusing on issues such as liability protection associated with the sharing of information, and expediting security clearances for those in industry that need them.

(Read More: 5 Ways to Protect Your Business From a Cyber Attack)

The electric utility industry is already working with government partners at the Departments of Homeland Security and Energy, the National Security Agency, and the White House. These partnerships have yielded classified briefings to make senior industry executives aware of the full scope of threats facing the electric grid, as well as a commitment to address legal and technical hurdles to deploying proprietary government technology on utility networks to improve real-time situational awareness.

(Read More: US Is Developing Aggressive Penalties for Cybertheft )

Given that the interdependencies and intersections between key industry sectors are increasing, federal legislation should also look at cybersecurity in a holistic way. This requires not just ensuring that individual segments and sectors are securing their systems, but also that everyone is sharing information, best practices, technologies, and response plans.

Finally, as the only industry already subject to mandatory and enforceable cybersecurity standards, electric utilities are urging leaders in Congress to leverage existing regulatory processes for making any necessary changes, and to leave the actual implementation activities to the sector-specific framework that already is serving our country well. Otherwise, moving any of that authority to a different body—whether to the Department of Homeland Security or somewhere else—could result in serious, unintended consequences for the reliability of our systems.

(Read More: Threat of 'Spectacular' Cyberattack Looms: Official)

"Electric utilities are urging leaders in Congress to leverage existing regulatory processes for making any necessary changes, and to leave the actual implementation activities to the sector-specific framework that already is serving our country well." -Tom Kuhn, President, Edison Electric Institute

The electric power industry supports passage of cybersecurity legislation, but we're not waiting for congressional action to enhance our cyber defenses. Instead, electric utilities proactively are forging ahead with a series of initiatives focused on cyber threat preparation, prevention, response, and recovery in our operations.

Besides the partnerships we've created with federal agencies, we're also collaborating with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, and federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies to strengthen our cybersecurity capabilities.

(Read More: Chinese Army Unit Is Seen as Tied to Hacking Against US)

For us, providing a reliable electricity supply is more than a slogan—it's a mandate. And as threats to the grid grow and become more sophisticated, the electric power industry remains committed to continuing to strengthen its defenses against cyber attacks. Therefore, Edison Electric Institute and its member companies look forward to continuing to work with the Administration and Congress to address this national security priority.

(Read More: Complete Coverage Hacking America)

Tom Kuhn is the President of the Edison Electric Institute, the association of investor-owned electric companies whose members generate and distribute approximately three-quarters of the Nation's electricity. Prior to joining the Institute in 1985, Mr. Kuhn was president of the American Nuclear Energy Council. From 1972 to 1975, he headed the energy section of the investment banking firm, Alex Brown and Sons. Prior to that, from 1970 to 1972, Mr. Kuhn was White House Liaison Officer to the Secretary of the Navy.

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