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Senate passes bill to secure power grids, water systems from cyberattacks

This year has been rather harsh on critical infrastructure in the United States, as fuel pipelines and water treatment plants came under high-profile cyberattacks. Following the same, the Biden administration last month came up with a sweeping resolution to curb the spread of such malicious attacks on the sector. Under the same, the Senate has passed $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which also contains funds to secure power grids and water systems from cyberattacks.

The bipartisan bill was passed in a 69-to-30 vote at the Senate on Tuesday, following which, it is all set to move towards the second vote, this time at the House.

To Protect The US From What Is Potentially In Store

Senator Angus King has expressed approval of the bill, citing how cyberattacks have grown to become a major threat to the country this year. In May, the US, and especially especially East Coast, was left without fuel for days, after the Colonial Pipeline had to shut down following a large-scale ransomware attack. The result? Lack of fuel and soaring prices. King argues that it had been this very attack that has opened the country’s eyes, and given them a “taste of what is potentially in store.”

Senate passes bill to secure power grids, water systems from cyberattacks
Image Credits: Colonial Pipeline

But the attack at Colonial wasn’t the only one that lawmakers took into consideration while passing the bill. In February, a water treatment facility at Oldsmar, Florida was hacked into. Back then, the attack had resulted in a rise in the levels of sodium hydroxide to the extent that it could have been harmful to residents. Thankfully, the rising levels were noticed by an operator, which allowed for a quick intervention. So, King’s fear that the over 100,000 public water systems in the US could all potentially become targets of cyberattacks, doesn’t seem too far-fetched.

The Directives

According to the bill, the Federal Highway Administration had been directed to develop a new tool to help transport authorities detect and respond to cyber attacks better. The attacks could range from hacks of traffic lights or road signs, to full-fledged attacks on departments. Emergency funds will be kept aside, to allow for quick response to attacks on public water systems, while grants will will made available for making water systems more resilient to attacks.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, on the other hand, has been asked to develop incentives to attract electric utilities towards investing on cybersecurity and data sharing. Additionally nearly $2 billion have been reserved for specific cybersecurity initiatives, such as a new $1 billion grant programme for federal cybersecurity assistance at various levels.

A new cyber director office will also be set up, along with a $100 million response and recovery fund, which will be handled by the Department of Honeland Security to support government and private firms in recovering from cyberattacks.

The move has been welcomed by public works officials, who say that the allocations will help them better balance defending their systems with fulfilling the power and water demands of the citizens.