JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Could Missouri’s electric power grid be at risk of a cyberattack? It’s not commonly discussed inside the Missouri Capitol, but an expert from Washington D.C. is warning lawmakers about the protection the state needs.
Dr. Peter Pry is the executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security. He told members of the House Special Committee on Government Accountability that because of Whiteman Air Force Base near Sedalia, Missouri has a target on its back.
Pry oversees a congressional advisory board to protect the U.S. from cyberattacks and electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks.
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“Think of EMP as an anti-technology threat,” Pry said. “If you take away the electric grid, that’s the basis for everything.”
His warning: the state needs to come up with a protection plan.
“Missouri needs to worry about this particular one, especially because of the presence of Whiteman Air Force Base here in the state which hosts the B-2 bomber,” Pry said.
The B-2 bomber fleet has been at Whiteman AFB since 1993 and has the ability to deliver both conventional and nuclear munitions.
“The first and most important thing they are going to go after is the one weapon system that can threaten their lives and those are B-2s,” Pry said.
Pry said that it’s not the state’s job to protect the entire nation but to also protect the electric grid in Missouri.
“What we are talking about here are catastrophic black-out scenarios that can basically last not just for ten days, or weeks or months, but forever if the grid is not protected,” Pry said.
His recommendation of a protection plan could cost tens of millions of dollars, and if that’s too much for the state, he says to start with places like hospitals and police stations.
“It has not been mandated to provide for protection again EMP and cyber, it isn’t happening,” Pry said. “Government has got to come in and not make it optional for the utilities. Most of the utilities and most of the corporations, if they are not required by government to do it, they’re not going to do it.”
Rep. Donna Baringer (D-St. Louis) said water and food systems also need to be protected.
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“Most of our food comes from farms,” Baringer said. “The state of Missouri is very agriculture centered and they have no protection right now if they were to filtrate our food and processing systems.”
She recommends the country and even the state spend more money on teaching coding in schools.
“Information technology expertise is the number one critical source that we have to come up with within this country,” Baringer said.
Back in October, Auditor Nicole Galloway released the most common cybersecurity risks of local governments. The top issues were former employees didn’t have their access to the computer system removed and passwords weren’t changed enough, they were shared by users, and weren’t complex enough.