Voices: Bonfante

The Energy Industry Is Taking Cybersecurity Seriously

In previous years, cybersecurity had not been a major concern for the energy industry, but a recent report shows that the energy industry is now paying close attention to cybersecurity threats.

By Katherine Bonfante

In previous years, cybersecurity had not been a major concern for the energy industry, but a recent report titled "2014 Strategic Directions: U.S. Electric Industry," published by Black & Veatch, shows that the energy industry is now paying close attention to cybersecurity threats. Just last year, cybersecurity ranked in sixth place, but the recent report ranks it on fourth place.

"We are seeing an industry that is actively moving forward with the deployment of comprehensive asset protection plans following several high-profile cyber and physical threat events," states the report.

Federal regulators have released stricter cybersecurity standards, yet only a third of the U.S. electric utilities surveyed admitted being prepared to meet the growing threat of a cyber attack. Thirty-two percent have integrated safety systems with the "proper segmentation, monitoring and redundancies" needed for protection, and a surprising 48 percent of electric utilities have done little to be able to defend their plants from a cyber attack.

"Foresight is forearmed. In an environment where threats are both real and virtual and physical damage can be triggered by natural forces or nefarious intent, the best approach is preparedness," states the report. "There is not a single solution, but with an approach that addresses the physical elements of cybersecurity and the cyber elements of physical asset security, organizations will be better equipped and educated to manage the full spectrum of dangers."

The Wall Street Journal said in March the nation can easily go into a total black-out if only nine of the country's 55,000 electrical substations were to shut down - due to either mechanical malfunctions or cyber attacks. Are we doing enough to ensure our electrical plants are functioning properly and their network safety is safe enough?

According to various reports, our electrical grids are not safe enough. Many utilities plants leave their network security up to computer software such as Windows XPs, and it is known that these programs are very susceptible to cybersecurity breaches.

On a daily basis electrical plants are already vulnerable to suffering unplanned shutdowns due to mechanical errors, now we worry that organized criminal networks could maliciously hack our systems and shut us down. We shouldn't need to worry about this.

It is reassuring to see the importance of cybersecurity rising on the list of concerns our industry sector leaders have – especially the energy sector. Hopefully cybersecurity will become a priority and steps to secure our industrial plants' safety are taken.

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