As cyber criminals continue to set their sights on public utilities, a bipartisan effort led by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) is aiming to turn up the dial on U.S. electric grid cybersecurity.

The Protecting Resources On The Electric Grid with Cybersecurity Technology (S. 2556), referred to as the PROTECT Act, will direct the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to give incentives to electric utilities to encourage them to boost their cybersecurity technology. For those utilities not regulated by FERC, the bill would establish a grant and technical assistance program for advanced cybersecurity technology at the Department of Energy (DOE).

Intensifying Cybersecurity Threats

In recent years, the vulnerability of the U.S. electric grid has come under scrutiny as foreign operatives have increased their efforts to attack U.S. public utilities and compromise the country’s electric supply. A new report from Siemens and the Ponemon Institute found the rate of cyberattacks on the utility industry may be worsening. Fifty-six percent of those surveyed reported at least one shutdown or operational data loss per year, and 25% were impacted by a so-called “mega attack.”

Regulators are already on high alert, as earlier this year, FERC introduced stricter standards on electric grid cybersecurity, expanding the scope of attacks utilities need to report to grid reliability regulators and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Murkowski, the chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and Manchin, the Committee’s ranking member, certainly hope this bill will stimulate the considerable investment in technology, human resources and training needed to address this ever-evolving threat.

In a release from the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources, Sen. Murkowski said, “We know the threat of cyberattacks by our foreign adversaries and other sophisticated entities is real and growing. Our bill takes steps to ensure utilities across our country are able to continue investing in advanced, cutting-edge cybersecurity technologies while also strengthening the partnership between private industry and the federal government.”

The Edge: Utilities Need to Boost Cybersecurity Now. This Bill Helps Get Them There.

Unfortunately, the general public has become all too aware of what a cybersecurity breach can do to a company and its customers. And at this point, the country may want to consider itself lucky that something similar hasn’t happened to an electric utility.

Hardening cybersecurity defenses is an absolutely critical step utilities must take to protect themselves and the grid from being compromised by malicious actors. If passed, the PROTECT Act’s rate incentives should help electric utilities invest in proper cybersecurity technology and increase their resilience to cyberattacks.