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Power grid attacks surge 71% in 2 years, likely to keep rising

An electrical transmission tower.(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
March 15, 2023

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) has released a report documenting a 71 percent increase in American power grid attacks since 2021, and they believe attacks will only increase. 

According to The Wall Street Journal, the report has confidential data comprised of analysis from the Electricity Information Sharing Data Center (E-ISAC), a division of NERC. An increase in reported attacks was confirmed by Manny Cancel, E-ISAC’s chief executive. 

“There seems to be a pattern where people are targeting critical infrastructure,  probably with the intent to disrupt,” Cancel said. “Going back to the 2020 presidential election, as well as the recent midterm, we’ve seen an uptick in chatter and an uptick in incidents, as well.” 

READ MORE: 2 arrested in plot to attack power grid in Maryland

The Department of Energy releases annual reports of power disturbances and their causes. While power losses realized by consumers varied in the events, a comparison of 2022 and 2021 shows an increase in reported cyber events and vandalism. 

In December 2022, Duke Energy experienced a gunfire attack on two substations in North Carolina, leaving tens of thousands of customers without power. 

Human attacks were responsible for 171 incidents of electrical disturbances in 2022, Insider reported.

According to CNN, Brian Harrell, a former U.S. Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection, stated that “a number” of domestic terrorist groups consider attacks like these “part of their playbook.”

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“There’s no doubt in my mind that 2023 is probably going to be the most catastrophic when it comes to the uptick of DVE (domestic violent extremism),” Harrell said. “A number of individuals and extremist groups online right now have already signaled that this is part of their playbook.” 

Consumers aren’t helpless in the face of increased risk. As government officials, federal agencies, and state law enforcement agencies work to protect the power grid from future attacks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has established a tip sheet in which individuals can identify and report suspicious activity. 

Individuals are encouraged to promptly report any suspicious activity noted around power substations in their area to local law enforcement.