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Senators urge FERC to protect critical infrastructure from Huawei threats

Six senators on Wednesday sent a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) urging the body to combat threats posed by using technology from Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.

“As you know, the Intelligence Community has issued repeated warnings to regulators and political leaders about the dangers associated with using Huawei equipment on the nation’s telecommunications network,” the senators, lead by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), wrote in a letter to FERC chair Neil Chatterjee, who oversees the country’s electrical grid.

“Congress and the Trump Administration have taken steps to eliminate Huawei products from national security sensitive applications, citing concerns with the company’s links to the Chinese Communist party, including its intelligence services,” the letter continues.

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While it’s known for cellphones, Huawei also develops solar panel and energy storage technology.

Huawei announced in June that it would exit the American solar market, but the Republican lawmakers and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) expressed some skepticism.

“While Huawei announced earlier this year that it intended to exit the U.S. solar market, there are no guarantees,” they wrote in the letter.

“Huawei’s line of solar products relies on inverters – devices that manage and convert energy produced by solar panels – for use in homes and businesses,” they added. “Huawei-produced inverters connected to the U.S. energy grid could leave it vulnerable to foreign surveillance and interference, and could potentially give Beijing access to meddle with portions of America’s electricity supply.”

The lawmakers suggested that the administration place a ban on Huawei’s entry into the American inverter market and also requested that FERC work with relevant agencies to preempt potential vulnerabilities.

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“In the meantime, we urge FERC and its new cybersecurity division to work closely with the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy and its National Laboratories, industry, utilities, and other federal, state and local regulators to curb threats and protect critical infrastructure,” they wrote.

Experts have increasingly raised concerns about cyberattacks on the energy grid as offensive cyber capabilities have become more sophisticated while defenses have lagged.

Two bills on the issue have been advanced to the Senate floor this year: the Enhancing Grid Security Through Public-Private Partnerships Act and the Energy Cybersecurity Act.

The first, sponsored by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), would require the Department of Energy to establish and carry out a program to assess the cyber and physical security of electric utilities.

The second, sponsored by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), would require the DOE to “develop advanced cybersecurity applications and technologies for the energy sector.”

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