By Rick Ritter

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A warning to electric companies, including BGE, to boost security to keep out hackers. This comes after the first ever blackout caused by cyber criminals.

Rick Ritter has more on the steps being taken to prevent what’s being called the new wave of digital attacks.

Security experts have long warned about an attack like this — one that could be devastating for our area.

Two days before Christmas, it was lights out in Ukraine. Pictures show a glimpse of the chaos that left 700,000 homes without power.

Just months ago, there was a similar situation in our region — a dip in voltage triggered a widespread blackout across D.C. and its suburbs, including College Park.

“I actually thought it was just my building. I didn’t know it was like the whole D.C. area,” one student said in April.

The difference — Ukraine’s blackout was the first ever caused by hackers — fear of what could come in the U.S.

A recent study shows a blackout for hours across D.C. and several surrounding states could cost the economy hundreds of billions of dollars.

“A successful cyber attack against the power grid would, of course, be devastating,” said Markus Rauschecker, University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security.

Officials say hackers from overseas are all probing the U.S. power grid for weaknesses, and Baltimore’s main source for electricity has taken notice.

“We’ve been in contact with the government. We’re monitoring the situation, the developments in the Ukraine,” said Justin Mulcahy, BGE Communications.

Mulcahy with BGE says the company, like others, has now been urged to boost its security network.

“This is a priority. It’s always a possibility, these types of threats, something we take very seriously,” he said.

He says preparation is the key to preventing a similar attack here.

“Our intelligence and operational experts, they help us to apply the appropriate level of detection, prevention and response to mitigate an incident,” said Mulcahy.

The good news — experts feel the likelihood of a similar attack happening in the United States is very low, adding that only a few places would have the capability to stage a successful attack, like China or Russia, but have little or no incentive to do so.

A Ukrainian security service has blamed Russia for causing the blackout.

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