US bill goes retro for cyber defence

US seeks to defend electric grid with 'retro' technology to prevent cyber attacks.
Published: Thu 04 Jul 2019

A US bill aims to defend the electricity network from cyber attack with ‘retro’  analogue and manual technology to isolate the most important control systems.  

The bipartisan Securing Energy Infrastructure Act (SEIA), passed the Senate last week and now moves to the House of Representatives.  

“As our world grows more and more connected, we have before us both new opportunities and new threats,” said Senator Angus King, one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “Our connectivity is a strength that, if left unprotected, can be exploited as a weakness. This bill takes vital steps to improve our defences, so the energy grid that powers our lives is not open to devastating attacks launched from across the globe.” 

The bill will examine ways to replace automated systems with low-tech redundancies, like manual procedures controlled by human operators. King’s office notes that the legislation was inspired in part by the cyber attack in the Ukraine, which would have been worse if that country did not still rely on manual technology to operate its grid. If the bill passes, a two-year pilot programme will research new security vulnerabilities and how technology could address them, and set up a government/industry working group.  

In an increasingly connected, digitised world, cybersecurity threats to the power grid are now a major national security issue and so such steps may be necessary. But it may seem counterintuitive to deliberately insert costly manual procedures back into the system, thereby losing efficiency gains and once again relying on the availability of a niche skilled workforce. 


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