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Securing the Power Grid
The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), an electricity reliability watchdog and self-regulatory organization (SRO), announced that it "will submit the first set of violation notices in the United States to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) today for approval...." The penalties relate to the seemingly mundane subject of "Vegetation Management." According to NERC, "Improper vegetation clearance on transmission lines was a causal factor of the August 14, 2003 blackout, where 50 million people across the Northeast U.S. and Southeast Canada lost power."

The National Journal provided a different possible explanation for the 2003 blackout. The article quotes a former president of the Cyber Security Industry Alliance as stating that he was told by "U.S. intelligence officials" that a foreign military "in 2003 gained access to a network that controlled electric power systems serving the northeastern United States." The article states "These officials believe that the intrusion may have precipitated the largest blackout in North American history...."

The article also quotes a former Defense Intelligence Agency official as stating that "Iíve long been a skeptic of claims about being able to shut down the world from the Net.? But...Iím starting to come around to the idea that the ignorance or intransigence of utility system owners just might merit a more robust response than has been undertaken to date." The article notes that "the government finds it exceptionally difficult to compel utility operators to better monitor their systems."

It is important not to jump to premature conclusions regarding power failures and security of the grid, particularly when so much remains shrouded in uncertainty. It is also important to recognize that SROs can be an effective alternative to direct government regulation. SROs and the companies they regulate, however, need to remember that trust in self-regulation must be justified through performance.

See NERC Press Release

See National Journal article

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