US electric grid growing more vulnerable to cyberattacks, regulator says

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By Laila Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. power grids are increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks, with the number of susceptible points in electrical networks increasing by about 60 per day, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) said in a webcast on Thursday.

The grids’ virtual and physical weak spots, or points in software or hardware that are susceptible to cyber criminals, grew to a range of 23,000 to 24,000 last year from 21,000 to 22,000 by the end of 2022, executives with the energy regulator said.

“It’s very hard to keep pace with addressing all those vulnerabilities,” said Manny Cancel, senior vice president of NERC.

Geopolitical conflict, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the war in Gaza, have dramatically increased the number of cyber threats to North American power grids, NERC said. Threats also commonly come from China, and the regulators said they expect the upcoming U.S. presidential election to increase the probability of attacks on the grid.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A local resident walks by the power grid towers at Bair Island State Marine Park in Redwood City, California, United States, January 26, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

“We’re going to be very vigilant during this current election cycle,” Cancel said.

Physical assaults on the grid have remained high since rising in 2022, with about 2,800 reports of gunfire, vandalism and other strikes on electrical networks last year, NERC said. Some 3% of those attacks led to outages or other operational problems.