THE United States' power grids are vulnerable to attack from foreign adversaries, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has ominously warned.
When asked by CNN's Jake Tapper whether the nation's enemies have the ability to completely shut down the US energy grid, Granholm responded: "Yeah, they do."
"I think that there are very malign actors who are trying even as we speak," she said.
"There are thousands of attacks on all aspects of the energy sector and the private sector generally … It's happening all the time. This is why the private sector and the public sector have to work together and this is what the president is doing."
Granholm's stark cautioning comes amid a rise in ransomware attacks in the US that have targeted national interests, including a hack on meatpacking firm JBS and the days-long shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline.
The US Department of Justice elevated the priority of ransomware attack investigations to a similar priority as a terror attack late last week.
It came after FBI Director Christopher Wray called on officials to step up their response to the recent spate of hacks, likening them to the 9/11 terror attacks that killed 3,000 people.
"There are a lot of parallels, there's a lot of importance, and a lot of focus by us on disruption and prevention," Wray told the Wall Street Journal.
"There's a shared responsibility, not just across government agencies but across the private sector and even the average American."
President Joe Biden also issued a letter to companies urging them to take the threat of ransomware attacks more seriously.
When asked on Sunday whether the US government is better prepared to deal with future hacks, Granholm told NBC that new regulations from the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) require companies to report when attacks happen in real-time.
"The TSA actually just put out a series of regulations requiring pipelines to let us know if they have been the victim, and whenever in the real-time… where are these attacks happening, so that we know and we can coordinate with our intelligence community to determine not just how to respond in the long-term, but how to respond immediately. So to that extent, yes," she said.
Granholm further reiterated that the private sector must be willing to work openly and actively with the White House.
"We have an agreement with the private sector on the transmission grid," she said.
"There are basic standards, cyber standards that they adhere to, cyber standards that are developed by the Department of Commerce, and we need that same sort of regime with pipelines. And that does not exist at the moment."
The energy secretary also stressed that companies should refrain from paying ransoms to hacking groups because doing so incentivizes future attacks.
"Whether you're private or public sector, you shouldn't be paying ransomware attacks because it only encourages the bad guys," she said.
Offering a similar stark forecast, Christopher Butera, head of Threat Hunting for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), said on Wednesday that the US will be hit by more attacks carried out by groups linked to foreign governments.
Speaking at a virtual summit, Butera added that hacking groups have become "more brazen", and that they've "started to exfiltrate data and try to extort payments."
"I do think we will continue to see that happen," he warned, adding that cybersecurity reform should be top of the White House's agenda.
Colonial Pipeline was hacked last month by the Russian crime group DarkSide, causing gas shortages in several states. The privately-owned company transports 45 percent of all fuel consumed on the east coast.
Reports last week revealed that DarkSide carried out the attack by compromising a single password. Colonial paid the group $4.4 million to relinquish its servers.
Meanwhile, JBS USA was hacked last week, causing all of the company's US-based meatpacking plants to shut down operations. The Russia-based hacking group REvil is suspected to be behind that attack.
On Wednesday, the White House said that President Joe Biden would bring up the issue of cyber-attacks when he meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week.
"Responsible states do not harbor ransomware criminals," press secretary Jen Psaki said, adding that the US is "not taking any options off the table in terms of how we may respond" to future hacks.
The White House has launched a "rapid strategic review" of policies around ransomware, Psaki continues.
The press secretary said the administration would begin taking steps targeting the "disruption of ransomware infrastructure," while working closely with the private sector.
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