White House unveils plan for protecting energy, transportation networks

The Obama administration sent Congress a long-awaited set of proposals today for toughening electronic safeguards for the U.S. electric grid and other energy systems.

A key provision would require operators of transmission lines and other critical energy infrastructure to hire third-party commercial auditors to assess their cybersecurity risk mitigation plans.

The administration is also calling for the standardization of 47 state laws that touch on cybersecurity, increasing penalties for criminal hackers, strengthening the Department of Homeland Security's oversight of cybersecurity and strengthening security for federal computer systems.

The proposal comes in response to a request by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and six Senate committee leaders who had asked President Obama for his input on cybersecurity legislation. Reid said today he hopes to pass a bipartisan cybersecurity bill as early as this summer.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, said the White House proposal mirrors similar legislation he introduced last year with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). Rockefeller and four other Democrats sent the Securities and Exchange Commission a letter yesterday, urging the commission to make public any cyber attacks reported by publicly traded companies.


"While the administration's delay in providing critical input to the legislative process is regrettable, it is my understanding that the administration proposal parallels many of the objectives, particularly pertaining to modernizing the public-private partnership, that Senator Rockefeller and I have advocated," Snowe said.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) floated the joint discussion draft on April 15 and have held hearings on the legislation (Greenwire, May 2).

The congressional and presidential push indicates the deep security concerns surrounding the wireless broadband network and other electronic systems that are integrated into transportation systems, shipping, energy and other critical infrastructure.

Federal officials have repeatedly warned that the grid is vulnerable to cyber attacks and physical threats, including rare solar flares and storms and increased vulnerability from "smart grid" technology (Greenwire, May 5).

"Our critical infrastructure -- such as the electricity grid, financial sector, and transportation networks that sustain our way of life -- have suffered repeated cyber intrusions, and cyber crime has increased dramatically over the last decade," the White House said today in a statement.

A key decision for the energy sector will be defining the roles of the government and energy companies in safeguarding the electric grid, which will become increasingly important as companies install more wireless "smart grid" technology, said Ed Legge, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute.

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