Cybersecurity and Physical Security

Why cybersecurity is fundamental to utility culture

For a century, electric utilities could be run without much worry about attacks from malicious hackers or nation-states engaged in cyber warfare. But today, even the smallest, most remote utility has to be diligent to protect itself against evolving cyber threats.

Increasingly, we're seeing new smart" technologies in our electric transmission and distribution systems — this offers greater control over the flow of electricity and allows devices to be turned on and off. Smart technologies streamline electric utility operations and allow customers to use smart appliances that save money and energy. However, the installation of smart systems opens up vulnerabilities.

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month (#NCSAM) and a time to think about being prepared for new and emerging threats. The good news is that utilities are aware of their vulnerabilities and diligent about shoring up to prevent attacks.

When buying and installing new technologies, utilities are thinking about what doors are being opened into the system, how to secure them, and what to do if there is a break-in. Cybersecurity is rapidly becoming fundamental to utility culture.

Utilities that have not yet installed smart controls know that they are not immune from cyber attacks. Almost any utility connected to the Internet — including billing systems and customer websites — could give criminals a gateway into system data and controls, if not properly protected. Eventually, every utility will have to install smart technologies. Utilities know this transition will be easier and less costly if they secure their systems before going smart.

Customers want to see the lights on 100 percent of the time. And although storms are the main threat to reliable power supply, utilities recognize that cyber attacks can be just as devastating. We know that a small town utility might attract the attention of cybercriminals just the same as larger ones — and therefore we are committed to protecting all systems.

Through the Electricity Sector Coordinating Council, the utility industry is working with the federal government so we're all on the same page and well prepared. Whether at an investor-owned, cooperative, or public power utility, effective cybersecurity can only be achieved through cooperation and staying one step ahead of the latest threat."

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