Physical attacks on the U.S. power grid rose 71 percent compared to 2021, and are expected to increase this year, according to the Wall Street Journal’s (WSJ) review of confidential industry data.
Analysis from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), a power-grid oversight body, was provided to WSJ and shows the surge in attacks to the grid driven by “ballistic damage, intrusion, and vandalism.”
“The analysis also determined that physical security incidents involving power outages have increased 20% since 2020, attributed to people frustrated by the onset of the pandemic, social tensions and economic challenges,” WSJ reported.
Jim Robb, NERC president and CEO, said in the organization’s Feb. 21 report that the U.S. electricity ecosystem must “come to grips” with the need to protect the grid from physical and cyber threats — such as coordinated attacks or supply chain issues.
“As seen in 2021, the threat landscape continued to demonstrate adversaries’ potential capability to disrupt critical infrastructure in North America,” Robb stated. “Increasingly bold adversaries regularly employ new tactics, techniques, and procedures; they are also exploiting new and legacy vulnerabilities.”
NERC says the Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center (E-ISAC) is partnering with the U.S. Department of Energy to create its new Energy Threat Analysis Center to collect, review, and exchange intelligence.
E-ISAC found a sharp increase in security incidents on the U.S. electrical grid in 2022, driven, in part, by clustered attacks on infrastructure in the Southeast, Midwest, and Pacific Northwest, according to WSJ.
Manny Cancel, E-ISAC’s chief executive, said there has been an increase in significant incidents since 2020, and that the number of politically or ideologically motivated attacks is growing.
“There seems to be a pattern where people are targeting critical infrastructure, probably with the intent to disrupt,” he told WSJ. “Going back to the 2020 presidential election, as well as the recent midterm elections, we’ve seen an uptick in chatter and an uptick in incidents as well.”
Earlier in February, an official at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) expressed concern that white nationalist groups may attempt attacks on the grid.
“We’ve seen attacks against the power grid for a number of years, and some of those attacks are simply people shooting into substations around the country for purely criminal reasons,” Kenneth Wainstein, undersecretary of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at the Department of Homeland Security, told CBS News. “But some of these shootings are also being done by domestic violent extremists” who are trying to engineer a societal collapse.
He added that intelligence analysts are on high alert for copycat crimes after recent attacks on power substations.