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U.S. Energy Grid Cybersecurity: Trump Signs Executive Order

A growing threat of cyberattacks by foreign adversaries against the U.S. energy grid has prompted President Trump to issue an executive order to secure the facilities and control systems necessary to operate the network.

The order, issued late last week, bars federal agencies from”acquiring, transferring, or installing” energy equipment owned or operated by a foreign country or individual. Such transactions pose an “undue risk of sabotage” [and] an “unacceptable risk to national security” and safety of American citizens, the order said.

While the order isn’t directed at any new threat but rather stems from a need to fortify the power system, Trump nevertheless accused foreign adversaries of “increasingly creating and exploiting vulnerabilities” in the U.S. grid. U.S. intelligence has long called for a national policy to protect critical infrastructure. A report by the Director of National Intelligence last year warned that both China and Russia could launch cyber attacks aimed at the electric grid. Trump has effectively barred Huawei and other Chinese electrical equipment makers from selling gear into the U.S. telecommunications market.

Countries of Concern?

Without naming any countries or companies, the order blocks U.S. purchases of power equipment said to be of risk to national security, which could restrain countries such as China and Russia from exporting goods and services to the U.S. It also establishes a task force composed of the Departments of Defense, Interior, Commerce, Homeland Security, National Intelligence and Office of Management and Budget. The council, which is tasked with developing and recommending energy infrastructure and procurement policies across federal agencies, has a year to submit a report to the president and the Office of Management and Budget.

“It is imperative the bulk-power system be secured against exploitation and attacks by foreign threats,” said Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette. ”This Executive Order will greatly diminish the ability of foreign adversaries to target our critical electric infrastructure.” The order empowers Brouillette to work with Trump’s cabinet and key energy players to safeguard the power grid.

The nation’s bulk-power system supports national defense, emergency services, critical infrastructure and the economy. Current government procurement rules set on a wide range of equipment are often awarded to the lowest-cost bids, a vulnerability that foreign bad actors could exploit with “malicious intent” the order reads. In what might be seen as a reference to China, Russia and others, Trump said that an unregulated flow of electrical equipment from foreign suppliers could result in “potentially catastrophic effects.” He called the unimpeded foreign supply of bulk-power system electric equipment an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security.”

Deeper Details and Next Steps

The order allows Brouillette, in conjunction with other federal agencies, to pre-qualify certain equipment and vendors in the electric equipment market for future transactions; set criteria to determine friend and foe to supply the U.S. energy grid; identify potentially malicious equipment; and, recommend ways to identify, isolate, monitor, or replace such items. Trump’s order directs the Task Force, as overseen by Brouillette, to consult with the energy and oil and natural gas sectors to recommend cross agency energy infrastructure procurement policies and procedures consistent with national security. In addition, it must engage with distribution system industry groups to shore up the product pipeline.

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