Revelations about the cyber theft of customer data at Target and Neiman Marcus are just the most recent reminders about the threat to the United States of cyber attacks. But invasive and costly attacks on businesses and all of us as customers may not even be the most worrisome threats.
Rather, cyber threats to critical infrastructure — for example, water, energy and telecommunications — are important to our national security. There is evidence that energy systems, in particular, are becoming a popular target. The Department of Homeland Security recently reported responding to 198 cyber-incidents in 2012 across all critical sectors. Forty-one percent of these incidents involved the energy sector, particularly electricity.
Although to date there are no reports of a successful cyber attack on the electric grid, we believe it is more a question of “when” than “if.” A targeted cyber attack — either alone or combined with a physical attack — on the power system could lead to huge costs, with sustained outages over large portions of the electric grid and prolonged disruptions in communications, health care delivery and food and water supplies.