The risk of state-sponsored hackers hijacking the US power grid has prompted President Trump to sign an executive order that can block electricity providers from buying foreign-made components.
The order applies to the bulk-power system, which includes power plants and the electric lines to transfer the energy across the country. According to Trump, unnamed “foreign adversaries” are increasingly trying to create or exploit vulnerabilities in the US power system.
“The bulk-power system is a target of those seeking to commit malicious acts against the United States and its people, including malicious cyber activities,” the order says.
Although no specific countries were named in the order, the US government and cybersecurity researchers have uncovered evidence Russian state-sponsored hackers have successfully infiltrated US power plants before.
Today’s executive order empowers the US Energy Department to block attempts to buy electrical equipment if it’s determined the hardware has ties to a foreign adversary.
According to the US Energy Department, each year the federal government spends millions of dollars on new equipment for the bulk-power system. However, the department warns the process has a potential vulnerability: government procurement rules often force the US to award contracts based on the lowest bid.
The executive order from Trump now lets the Energy Department scrutinize deals to buy the equipment for both the federal government and US individuals.
“It is imperative the bulk-power system be secured against exploitation and attacks by foreign threats,” US Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette said in a statement. “This Executive Order will greatly diminish the ability of foreign adversaries to target our critical electric infrastructure.”
The order also calls for the Energy Department to designate which vendors are “pre-qualified” to sell to the US. Within 150 days, the department, in consultation with US Homeland Security and Department of Defense, will formally publish the procurement rules stemming from Trump’s executive order.
The Trump administration and the FCC have been taking similar action to secure the country’s telecommunications networks. Last year, the FCC voted to deny funds to any US carriers or internet service providers that buy components from China’s Huawei and ZTE, citing the two companies as a potential spying threat. However, both Huawei and ZTE deny the allegation.