Biden's Infrastructure Plan Lacks Funding for Cybersecurity

joe biden speaks into mic

President Joe Biden (JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Lawmakers and security experts have expressed disappointment that President Joe Biden's $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan did not include funding to protect vital facilities against the growing threat of cyberattacks.

The president's infrastructure package failed to provide money to defend critical systems, such as the U.S. power grid, against hackers, according to The Hill on Friday.

"Any critical infrastructure modernization must take cybersecurity into account from the start," said Marty Edwards, vice president of OT Security at cybersecurity group Tenable said in a statement to The Hill.

"As we become more and more reliant on the electric grid, increasingly advanced adversaries are looking to disrupt our way of life in any way possible, including by attacking our most critical infrastructure."

Biden’s plan did include $100 billion for improving grid resiliency, the creation of new jobs, and developing more clean electricity – but nothing specifically for security measures.

"It is a bit of an eyesore of not seeing a more prominent listing of cybersecurity in this, but I think there will be more to come," said Tobias Whitney, vice president of Energy Security Solutions at Fortress Information Security, which works with grid operators.

Capitol Hill officials have warned that foreign adversaries were actively attempting — and had the ability — to disrupt the power grid during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A spokesperson for Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, criticized numerous aspects of Biden’s plan, including the lack of specific cyber funding.

Protecting the grid has become an increasing concern as hackers in recent years have intensified efforts to target critical systems.

Former Director of Intelligence Daniel Coats compiled the 2019 Worldwide Threat, which found that Russia, China, and Iran all were capable of launching cyberattacks that "cause localized, temporary disruptive effects on critical infrastructure."

A report last month by the Government Accountability Office said U.S. systems were increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks.

The country's power grid has suffered disruptions in recent years, due to a 2019 cyberattack on an undisclosed Western utility, and because of frigid temperatures this past February that caused millions in Texas to lose power.

Jim Cunningham, the executive director of Protect Our Power, said his organization is urging the administration to invest between $20 billion and $25 billion in cybersecurity for the grid, which he told The Hill "is attacked millions of times per day."

"I think it is absolutely an essential part of any infrastructure plan," Cunningham said. "The reality is the tragedy that we witnessed in Texas a short time ago thankfully only lasted a week, week and a half ... but if the grid goes down, we’re looking at months, maybe God forbid even a year. So electricity plays a critical role in the functioning of our society."

Although the infrastructure proposal did not include specific cybersecurity funds, administration officials said Biden soon will sign an executive order that will include actions to improve the security.

The latest COVID-19 relief bill included $650 million for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), along with other funding for technology modernization.

Also, Bloomberg News reported Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and other administration officials informed top utility executives last month on a new plan to defend the U.S. grid from cybersecurity threats.

Bipartisan senators on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee sent Granholm a letter last month urging her to prioritize cybersecurity of the grid.

"The reliability and resilience of the electric grid is critical to the economic and national security of the United States," the lawmakers, led by Sens. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and Angus King, I-Maine, wrote.

Separate from that letter, Risch told The Hill that "securing our critical energy infrastructure is one of the most pressing national security issues facing our nation."

"There is strong bipartisan agreement that protecting the electric grid and other critical infrastructure is of paramount importance and must be a key component of any plan," he said.

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