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NSA secret cyber security testing no longer secret

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It's no secret that the nation's electric grid is vulnerable to potentially devastating cyber attacks. It's also no longer a secret that the federal government is targeting utilities to test the security of their grids.

Cyber security concerns reach much farther than your typical computer hacker. The government is most concerned with the surveillance by foreign countries of computer systems controlling the U.S. grid and related infrastructure.

The Secret Directive

In January 2008, President Bush issued National Security Presidential Directive 54, which grants the National Security Administration (NSA) broad authority over the security of American computer networks. The Directive was never released to the public -- that is, until 2010 when the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) revealed part of the directive it called a "cyber shield for utilities."

Further details have never been released, until now.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a public interest research center in Washington, D.C., obtained the NSA's highly classified directive files through a Freedom of Information Act request and, subsequently, released the files to CNET who reported on their content.

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Epic obtained the NSA's highly classified Perfect Citizen files through a Freedom of Information Act request.  ___________________________

The newly released files reveal a secret NSA program called the Perfect Citizen, targeting the computerized systems that control utilities to discover security vulnerabilities, which can be used to defend the U.S. or disrupt the infrastructure of other nations, according to CNET.

According to WSJ, the Perfect Citizen program is intended to detect cyber assaults on private companies and government agencies running such critical infrastructure as the electricity grid and nuclear-power plants, and conducts vulnerability exploration and research against the SCADA systems that control large-scale utilities.

According to CNET, EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg said that the newly declassified documents "may help disprove" the NSA's assertion that the Perfect Citizen program does not include the monitoring of private networks.

Government officials contend that Perfect Citizen allows them to protect the systems due to a better understanding of the infrastructure technologies used to interoperate on the commercial backbone.

The Perfect Citizen program is expected to run through September 2014 at the earliest.

Cyber Security Order Possible

Infowars.com attributes Washington insiders as saying that, in the coming weeks, it is almost certain that Barack Obama will once again bypass Congress in the and issue an executive order on cyber security.

The order is expected to place new demands on private companies to share information with the government, intelligence agencies and even the military and could possible give the government excessive power over water plants and the electric grid, according to infowars.com.

A strong argument could be made in response to the vulnerability of the electric grid for each state in the country to have its own power grid versus today's centralized grid. Currently, if one control center experiences a security breach, other control centers could also go down. Diversification of energy resources -- relying more heavily on robust renewables available in different parts of the country -- could be one way to avoid a potentially devastating scenario.