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How Will the New Cybersecurity Law Help Improve Cybersecurity Across the Entire Electric Grid?

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Richard Brooks's picture
Co-Founder and Lead Software Engineer, Reliable Energy Analytics LLC

Dick Brooks is the inventor of patent 11,374,961: METHODS FOR VERIFICATION OF SOFTWARE OBJECT AUTHENTICITY AND INTEGRITY and the Software Assurance Guardian™ (SAG ™) Point Man™ (SAG-PM™) software...

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  • Apr 27, 2022

This item is part of the Cybersecurity - April 2022 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

The new law, called Strengthening American Cybersecurity Act of 2022, requires critical infrastructure operators to report to the DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) within 72 hours of detecting an incident. It also requires critical infrastructure operators to report a ransomware payment within 24 hours. Many details remain to be worked out and CISA is working in collaboration with other government agencies and in public-private partnerships to reach a consensus on the details. We are beginning to see a glimpse of the future for cybersecurity across the entire electric grid and all critical infrastructure:

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  • CISA has started holding industry meetings with grid operators, i.e., NERC NPCC on 3/23/2022
  • CISA is now communicating cybersecurity bulletins directly to grid operators
  • CISA is providing recommendations on Hacker Tactics, Techniques and Procedures and mitigating actions directly to grid operators
  • CISA has established a single point of contact to report cyber incidents
  • CISA coordinates a “whole of government” response to cybersecurity in collaboration with other agencies, i.e., the FBI, NIST, NSA, DOE and others
  • CISA is providing guidance on best practices and resources to address cyber threats, i.e.,
  • CISA is not a regulator and is bound by law to protect sensitive information from FOIA and other communication channels.
  • CISA has established a Supply Chain Risk Management task force (ICT_SCRM Task Force) to assist small and medium businesses with cybersecurity protections, including small electric utilities that are implementing broadband services across America
  • CISA does not conduct cybersecurity audits for regulatory compliance; CISA’s goal is to help critical infrastructure operators improve cybersecurity protections.

A summarization of the new law is provided by JDSupra (shown in italics):

The new law builds on previous legislative efforts to tighten the nation’s cybersecurity-reporting requirements, and it appears that legislative persistence has finally carried the day. Passed under the fiscal 2022 omnibus spending bill, the new legislation, when it becomes law, will mandate the following:

  • Require federal civilian agencies to report all “substantial” cyber incidents to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) within 72 hours
  • Require ransomware payments that are covered within the law to be reported to CISA within 24 hours of payment
  • Require information sharing and better coordination between federal agencies tasked to assist in combatting these attacks
  • Require the authorization of the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (“FedRAMP”) for five years so that all federal agencies can adopt cloud-based technologies

“Critical” infrastructure sectors have been previously identified by CISA as:

  • Chemical Sector
  • Commercial Facilities Sector
  • Communications Sector
  • Critical Manufacturing Sector
  • Dam Sector
  • Defense Industrial Base Sector
  • Energy Sector
  • Financial Services Sector
  • Food and Agriculture Sector
  • Government Facilities Sector
  • Healthcare and Public Health Sector
  • Information Technology Sector
  • Nuclear Reactors, Materials and Waste Sector
  • Transportation Sector and
  • Water and Wastewater Systems Sector

CISA will now become the main “hub” for federal reporting of both cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure providers and the payment of any ransomware payments associated with cyber-attacks on these providers. The law also authorizes the Director of the Office and Management and Budget to consult with various federal agencies, including the Department of Justice, to use regulations to implement the new legislation.

It's still unclear how ow when the new law will be implemented, but it’s safe to say that Bulk Electric System (BES) entities subject to NERC jurisdiction and NERC CIP standards will likely be affected, as follows in the following speculative analysis

  • NERC CIP-008 requires that jurisdictional entities report cyber incidents and “attempts to compromise” on BES Cyber Assets
    • The new legislation is not limited to BES Cyber assets; any cyber incident that satisfies the “soon to come” criteria for a “substantial” incident must be reported to CISA. This means that a cyber incident on a market system used to submit hourly energy offers and bids, and other IT systems would be in-scope for reporting to CISA, if it the cyber incident passes the “substantial” test
  • NERC can impose fines for parties that fail to comply with the NERC CIP standards
    • The new legislation gives CISA subpoena power to call in a party for questioning before CISA, but no fines are levied by CISA
  • NERC operates under a “Doctrine of Auditor Independence” preventing the organization from assisting entities with implementation of the CIP standards
    • CISA is not a regulator and is authorized by Congress to provide cybersecurity guidance and free services to critical infrastructure operators to aid with cybersecurity protections for the grid. Grid operators can contact their CISA regional entity for assistance. The CISA service offerings are available to all electric grid entities, large and small, not just BES entities.
  • NERC’s E-ISAC operates a closed-loop information exchange where only authorized parties have access to information sharing services provided by NERC
    • CISA operates under a philosophy that cybersecurity is a team sport and information sharing across industries is critically important to thwart cyber-attacks. CISA’s philosophy aligns well Senate testimony provided by PJM’s Tom O’Brien:

"Partnership and collaboration are essential to any cybersecurity or physical security program. The importance of working across the industry, and with our state and federal government partners – and even across other critical infrastructures like telecom, finance, water and gas – to share threat information and best practices cannot be overstated. Threat intelligence and learning from others in relation to threats and prevention is critical to managing any cybersecurity program."

The Department of Energy has been allocated $72 million to address cyber risks and supply chain concerns.  It’s unclear how these funds will be used, but it is conceivable that some grid operators could receive some of this funding for targeted work, in-line with DOE goals.

According to CISA Director Jenn Easterly, the legislation is a “game-changer” and will allow CISA to “use these reports from our private sector partners to build a common understanding of how our adversaries are targeting U.S. networks and critical infrastructure.

There is implementation work for CISA as a result of the legislation; the law’s provisions will not come into full force until CISA delineates the necessary rules and regulations to define which entities fall within the critical infrastructure sectors that will be affected by this legislation. Additionally, CISA must clearly denote what types of “substantial” cyber incidents are covered by the law’s reporting requirements. CISA has 24 months from the March 15 bill passage date to issue its proposed rules. Final rules must be issued by CISA within 18 months after the issuance of those proposed rules.

In summary, all of critical infrastructure will become part of the solution to address cybersecurity risks, with guidance and leadership provided by CISA. Information sharing is considered a vitally important function in the battle against cyber-crime, which CISA is preparing to administer broadly, in-line with the comments made by Tom O’Brien cited earlier, “The importance of working across the industry, and with our state and federal government partners – and even across other critical infrastructures like telecom, finance, water and gas – to share threat information and best practices cannot be overstated.”

Well said, Tom. It looks like we are headed down a more collaborative and effective path with CISA providing cybersecurity guidance across all critical infrastructure.

John Benson's picture
John Benson on May 9, 2022

Excellent post, Richard.

When I worked in Electric Utility IT, we helped many of our clients deal with the CIP Requirements.

The one thing I didn't see were any mention of Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (other than the NERC E-ISAC) go through the link below for more information on these.

A 2015 Presidential Executive Order directed The Secretary of Homeland Security to work with existing “Information Sharing and Analysis Organizations”, encourage the development of such additional new organizations and promote information sharing among these organizations and with the federal government.


Paul Korzeniowski's picture
Paul Korzeniowski on May 16, 2022

Good points. The sad reality is hackers and technology vendors and their customers are engaged in a never ending game of leap frog, where one comes with a new technique to thwart the other. The grid is a target because energy is so vital to day to day operations and much of its infrastructure was built before such attacks were occurring. As a result, they may not only be targets but also unable to handle the more sophisticated attacks unfortunately created every day. The energy industry needs to stay on its toes and laws like this one help them to keep their focus. 

Richard Brooks's picture
Thank Richard for the Post!
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