Senators during an Energy and Natural Resources Senate Committee hearing Thursday called for more urgency regarding cyberattacks on the energy grid. Sens. Angus King, I-Maine, and Martha McSally, R-Ariz., stressed diligence in the cyberthreat that Russia is currently posing on U.S. electric and gas grids.

The hearing for cybersecurity efforts in the energy industry offered tough questioning from senators that witness panel members did not have the answers for or offered to look further into the inquiries.

James B. Robb, President and CEO of North American Electric Reliability Corporation, was asked to confirm that the Russians were already in the grid, based on public news reports. Mr. Robb declined to comment on those reports. Sen. King also asked if there was any Huawei, ZTE, or Kaspersky equipment in the power grid system, which Mr. Robb said he would have to investigate to find out.

Sen. McSally posited that the hearing felt like subcommittee hearings from 19 years ago when discussion centered on the potential threat to critical infrastructure and cybersecurity.

“I don’t want to take away from some of the things that have been done, but what has changed in 19 years, more rapidly than us figuring out how to defend, protect, share information, and do whatever it takes, is the threat is real and it’s happening,” Sen. McSally said.

There were also calls for mandatory standards of gas pipelines because they are a part of the electric system. Increased interdependence among gas and electric grids have raised cybersecurity threats. Neil Chatterjee, Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said that it was incumbent upon the natural gas companies to make sure they’re secure for the electric companies they support.

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.