Since 2012, the last decade has seen an unprecedented surge in attacks on U.S. power grids — through vandalism, theft, and, more recently, cyber terrorism. As economic, political, and social infrastructures increasingly digitize, power grid attacks and potential consequences on connectivity are growing to be a larger, imminent threat. Just this past winter of 2022, shootings in two North Carolina substations led to power outages for more than 45,000 people in Moore County. More recently, on Christmas Day, attacks on four Tacoma Public Utilities and Puget Sound Energy substations in Washington State left 14,000 customers without power.
The Federal Government and Critical Infrastructure
As the federal government plans to expand and update power grids across the country, especially for new renewable energy such as wind and solar, the increased numbers of power centers and substations will inevitably bring the risk of potential targets. With the potential increase of power grid attacks, the federal government has taken broader steps in securing the ever-expanding national infrastructure. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) warned in their October report that distributed energy resources bring in “emerging cybersecurity challenges to the electric grid” and should subsequently focus on security as “a core component.”
Vulnerable Power Grids
Despite the increase in implemented measures by utilities, federal agencies, and state regulators over the last two decades, experts fear the power grid is more vulnerable than ever. Utilities are required by federal regulations to report any disruption to a certain portion of the power system. However, such requirements may be less specific for incidents that don’t necessarily cause a disturbance but nonetheless represent targeted and organized attacks on critical infrastructure. Just days after the substation shootings in North Carolina, a Duke Energy hydropower facility in South Carolina fell under this gray area. While the attack did not disrupt the power supply, company employees allegedly saw an individual targeting the Watree Hydro Station in Ridgeway before speeding off in a truck. Federal regulations do not require the facility to report incidents like this as they did not cause a widespread outage, but it nonetheless raises concern over security of these facilities, and consequently, the neighboring area’s connection.
During a meeting with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on supply chain issues, CEO of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center, Manny Cancel, shared his concern for the security of critical infrastructure. He warned that recent threats to power grid infrastructure and elements of the electricity supply chain are increasing “not only in complexity, but in volume” and attribute to the “most complex threat landscape” he has seen in his tenure.
Why Are The Attacks Happening?
While there is no confirmed motivation for the North Carolina power grid attacks, there has been increasing activity by domestic terrorists targeting power grids to cause targeted and/or widespread civil unrest. Last February, three white supremacists plead guilty to a plot to shut down parts of the nations’ power grid to create unrest and cause a “race war.” In 2021, 4 members of a neo-Nazi group were charged with a similar conspiracy to take down a critical substation with guns and explosives. These incidents are alarming not only because of the potential direct harm they could cause on the population, but also because of their increased focus on power as a means to catalyzing widespread chaos and turmoil. Other more common incidents such as vandalism and robbery have had less critical consequences, but nonetheless showcase the vulnerability of the current infrastructure and its direct line to causing potential harm and damage to the population.
Smaller Power Grids
Currently, federal cybersecurity regulations are mainly focused on major substations and transformers: critical infrastructures that connect populations to the power grid and on which thousands and tens of thousands of families rely for everyday life. These vulnerable facilities, having the potential to cause widespread outages if the target of coordinated attacks, have strict regulations for securing their infrastructures – from armed security staff, bullet-resistant fencing, or video monitoring. Smaller facilities, however, such as those targeted in Moore County, do not have the same regulations and often do not meet the federal criteria for security. Instead, they are subject to state or local regulations, which can vary.
These regulations are critical not just for securing valuable public infrastructure and equipment, but also for keeping suburban, rural, and metropolitan areas online and lit. While needed security measures can vary according to size, location, and population, it is more important than ever to stay proactive and vigilant in securing and protecting today’s critical infrastructures.
Deterring Critical Infrastructure Attacks
As TrueLook proudly calls headquarters home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the recent power grid attacks have been a concern that truly hits close to home. As a top industry leader in construction cameras, security through remote jobsite monitoring and connectivity are hallmarks in how we serve our customers and community. Our range of fixed position and pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras allow users to have remote monitoring access with a platform featuring time-lapse movies, global search, and much more. We understand that security is always a number-one priority, no matter the size or location. From small contract work to large scale infrastructure, TrueLook cameras are keeping a 24/7 watch to ensure security for all customers and the communities their projects serve. To find out more about TrueLook, check out our website for a full feature list of our construction camera fleet, contact us to schedule a live demo, or read our blog for more industry news and insights.