WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sophisticated hackers could bring down electrical grids serving an entire region of the United States, leaving homes and businesses dark for months, a lawmaker who specializes in cybersecurity issues said on Friday.
Rep. Jim Langevin, a Rhode Island Democrat and a cybersecurity expert, praised President Barack Obama for raising the profile of efforts to fight cybercrime, including the expected naming of a cybersecurity czar to coordinate the effort.
Hackers have already penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and have stolen intellectual property, corporate secrets and money. In one incident, a bank lost $10 million in cash in a day, according Shawn Henry of the FBI’s cybercrime unit.
“I’m most worried about the electric grid,” Langevin said in an interview with Reuters.
“You could wipe out a whole section of the country’s power grid through a cyber attack and we could essentially be without power for months,” he said warning that generators destroyed in a cyber attack would be hard to quickly replace.
“These generators are not just sitting on a shelf as spare parts. That worries me. That’s what keeps me up at night,” he said.
Langevin, who was on the Center for Strategic and International Studies commission to study cybersecurity, said that government classified networks and financial firms caused him less concern, but critical infrastructure sprawled across the country and often privately held were worrisome.
“Part of the problem is that so much of our critical infrastructure is in private sector,” he said. “We have to find ways of working more closely with the private sector to get them to do what they need to do to make sure that the vulnerabilities are closed.”
Langevin said the government could lead the way by changing the way it makes purchases.
“The government can be a real driver in the area of demanding the highest level of security in the way we purchase software and equipment,” he said. “We’re the biggest purchaser of software and equipment in the country if not the world.”
Reporting by Diane Bartz, editing by Leslie Gevirtz