Source: Foreign Affairs-By Rob Knake

The Next Cyber Battleground: Defending the U.S. Power Grid From Russian Hackers

The digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned starkly last week. Most commentators took his declaration that “the warning lights are blinking red” as a reference to state-sponsored Russian hackers interfering in the upcoming midterm elections, as they did in the 2016 presidential election. But to focus on election interference may be to fight the last war, fixating on past attacks while missing the most acute vulnerabilities now. There’s reason to think that the real cyberthreat from Russia today is an attack on critical infrastructure in the United States—including one on the power grid that would turn off the lights for millions of Americans.

We know what Russia is capable of because we can see what it’s done elsewhere. A staff report from the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations found evidence that ahead of 2016, Russia had attempted to manipulate elections in 18 other countries. Now intelligence agencies and security companies have connected Russian hackers to the shutdown of a German steel mill, the cutting off of phone and Internet service to some 900,000 Germans, and most ominously, two disruptions of the power grid in Ukraine. The right takeaway from Russian interference in 2016 is not just that Washington needs to protect American elections; it’s also that what Russia does in cyberspace in its near abroad should be a warning about what can be done in the United States. (…)

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