Experts concur with King’s concern that Russia, China have already infiltrated America’s energy grid

March 23, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine), Co-Chair of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission (CSC), today asked energy security experts from the Department of Energy (DOE), and the private sector, if they believe there are cyber “sleeper cells” that have infiltrated the nation’s energy grid and may be positioned for a future attack. Robert Lee, CEO of Dragos – a leading energy cybersecurity company – confirmed that it is a “reasonable assumption” adversaries like Russia and China have already penetrated American energy infrastructure and warned that more detection efforts are badly needed.

“Do you believe that there are already “sleeper cells” in our grid?” asked Senator King. “That already have been penetrated by the Russians, perhaps by the Chinese that are waiting for exploitation?”

“I think it is a very reasonable assumption, but the bigger problem is we don’t know,” replied Robert Lee. “And actually, it goes to your Chinese component discussion as well that Mr. Kumar was talking about, which is if you look at the guidance and regulation that’s come out from the government to the asset owners, about 95% of it is preventative. Patch, passwords, access management and so forth. That leaves very little for visibility, detection, response, recovery.”

“That’s what’s concerning me. We may have already lost this battle in some sense,” continued Senator King.

“If they’re not already. I mean, they’ve tried multiple times – but not to be too flippant – if they’re not already in key parts of it, I don’t think they’re doing the job very well,” Robert Lee added.  

Continuing his questioning, King asked Puesh Kumar – Director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response Preparedness – about the “sleeper cells” and what can be done to address them.

“Mr. Kumar, your thoughts about the existence of I call them “sleeper cells,” but you understand what I mean,” Senator King continued.

“Senator, as Mr. Lee was mentioning, we need to invest in detection of adversaries. We need to be able to see them,” Director Kumar concurred. “So how do we know that they’re already there and we may not know? And how do we get that awareness? So, one of the big focus areas for us over the last year has been we need to deploy sensor technologies. This was a White House-led initiative to say we need more visibility in our energy sector networks and we need to get sensors to do that. And, if we see something that is anomalous in those networks, we need to be able to connect those dots and say, “well, why did that malfunction happen?’ Versus was it just a technical failure or was it something more malicious? We don’t know that, and we need to get that visibility, sir.”

As Co-Chair of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission (CSC), and a member of the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, Senator King is recognized as one of Congress’ leading experts on cyberdefense and is a strong advocate for a forward-thinking cyberstrategy that emphasizes layered cyberdeterrence. Since it officially launched in April 2019dozens of CSC recommendations have been enacted into law, including the creation of a National Cyber Director.