Former Obama official: U.S. 'very vulnerable' to power grid cyberattack from Russia

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David Knowles
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America’s power grid is “very vulnerable” to attack from foreign enemies, according to the former head of U.S. cybersecurity policy.

“The power grid has long been a target of a lot of different adversaries because of its interconnectedness, because of our dependence on it and because of the fact that it is often accessible from the internet,” Michael Daniel, who was in charge of cybersecurity at the National Security Council under President Barack Obama, told Grant Burningham, host of the Yahoo News podcast “Bots & Ballots.”

During the 2016 presidential election, Daniel was tasked with formulating a response to the Russian hacking operation into Hillary Clinton’s campaign. He drew up a range of responses, but was eventually told to stand down, in part out of fears over the possible consequences of an all-out cyberwar with Moscow.

Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool/AP, Getty Images
Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool/AP, Getty Images

“Look at the difficulties that we have in this country when we lose power for an extended period of time,” Daniel said. “When you think about the impact that it had on Puerto Rico to lose power, and now imagine that you’ve got an adversary who is trying to prevent you from restoring that capability. And there are other things, too, that can be done: The transportation grid, our financial services industry, our health care systems, all of those are interconnected.”

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Since leaving the NSC, Daniel has become the president of the Cyber Threat Alliance, a nonprofit that helps companies deal with threats from hostile actors in the digital age. While the Trump administration has eliminated his position at the NSC, Daniel said the threat from countries like Russia still remains.

“We are very vulnerable as a country, as are most countries,” Daniel said. “We have a long way to go to improve our cybersecurity and to improve our resilience, because ultimately you can never drive the risk of a cyberincident to zero. We need to be ready to respond and to recover from and to be able to operate through incidents when they occur.”

For more on the threats hackers pose to the U.S. power grid, listen to the full interview.

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