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Sen. Blumenthal discusses cyber threat from Russia, says ‘This nation is under attack’

WEST HARTFORD — The country is under attack, although the results may be invisible, Sen. Richard Blumenthal said on Monday at a press conference about his...

WEST HARTFORD — The country is under attack, although the results may be invisible, Sen. Richard Blumenthal said on Monday at a press conference about his congressional goals for this year.

Blumenthal spoke about the two topics he finds most pressing as Congress reconvenes: upping our cyber security defense in light of the Russian hacks, and ensuring the Affordable Care Act is not repealed when President-elect Donald Trump takes office. Blumenthal is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will hold a hearing this week on foreign cyber threats.

He mainly focused on the cyber attacks we are facing from Russia, and how those could impact not just our elections, but also our power grid, our financial institutions, infrastructure, transportation and more.

The malware in the Vermont utility is a sobering and scary prospect of potential impact on the viability of our grid, clearly showing how vulnerable we are to … (a shut down of) the electric system,” Blumenthal said. He was referring to the malware found in the The Burlington Electric Department’s system in Vermont, which was confirmed on Friday and which officials say is linked to Russian hackers.

FOX 61 also spoke to Eversource about how it is protecting Connecticut’s electric grids from a similar attack. In a statement, Eversource said: “Eversource has a security program in place to detect any breaches of our computers and systems. We work closely with authorities and utilities around the country and closely monitor our network for any unusual activity.”

He also spoke about why the average Connecticut resident should be concerned, versus just letting the intelligence community handle the risk.

“The average business or homeowner here in Connecticut ought to be very, very understanding – even apprehensive – about the threat that’s represented by potential Russian aggression and cyber attacks,” he said. He added that “Human lives literally are at stake. If the electricity is shut down, the lights go out at our hospitals, at institutions across the country, lives may be lost. If our financial system goes down, savings can be destroyed. If our transportation is stopped, the economic growth and progress of this country can be forestalled and decimated.

So how do we approach these issues?

Blumenthal laid out three steps he intends to take, and thinks that we as a nation need to take:

  • Create a select senatorial committee to investigate the hacking. Specifically, who are the perpetrators, what was attacked, and how widespread was the attack. The committee, which would span existing congressional committees, would draw up a report to release to the American people.
    • “Cyber cuts across different lines in our government as it does in our private lives,” Blumenthal explained.
  • Initiate stronger sanctions against Russia. He called out President Barack Obama’s announcement that as an executive action, he would expel 35 Russian diplomats from the United States and shut down two intelligence gathering facilities. However, Blumenthal said that’s not enough, and that executive actions are not enough. He said that legislation needs to be created to expand the sanctions that have been implemented on Iran via the Iran nuclear deal, and apply them to Russia. That would mean barring oil exports and stopping access to our banking systems.
  • Lastly, to harden defenses against cyber attacks. He wants to pass a cyber security act that links public and private systems for data gathering to ensure we are taking every precaution.

The senator said the congressional efforts will be bipartisan, and said he had spoken to people on both sides of the aisle, all of whom agree action needs to be taken and stronger sanctions need to be implemented.

Blumenthal went as far as to call this a war, saying, “This nation is under attack. We are, in effect, engaged in a cyber war that requires robust, strong response to deter and defend this nation against a continuing cyber aggression.”

He added that while a cyber war may be a cold war, and it may grow hotter, but it has to be confronted. There must be deterrents and defense.”

He also implored Americans and our highest officials to take the threat seriously. With a jab at President-elect Trump, he said, “To demean or dismiss it, as the president-elect has done, I think is a disservice to the nation, as well as a disrespect for our intelligence community.”

Meanwhile, the Edison Electric Institute, which represents all investor-owned electric utilities in the United States, also released a statement to FOX 61:

On Thursday, December 29, 2016, senior government officials with the Departments of Energy and Homeland Security briefed the CEOs of the Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council (ESCC) and other energy sector representatives regarding Russian cyber incidents against U.S. interests. Critical infrastructure sectors—including the electric power sector—took immediate steps to review and to secure their systems based on this new intelligence.

At this time, we are aware of a single instance in which a U.S. electric utility discovered a Russian presence on its network. The utility has shared this information with DOE, DHS, and all appropriate authorities. At this time, there is no evidence that any systems responsible for grid operations were impacted.

The electric power industry values its partnership with the U.S. government. Thanks to close and ongoing coordination through the ESCC, actionable government intelligence was shared with private-sector operators throughout the sector to better inform their defenses. Energy companies, in turn, are sharing information about compromises with the government to raise awareness of cybersecurity incidents across the private sector and to inform best practices for protection and mitigation.”