Working Cooperatively to Ensure a Secure Grid - Carolina Country

Working Cooperatively to Ensure a Secure Grid

Co-ops are working together to protect the grid from hackers

By Don Bowman

Don Bowman

Last year, in a well-publicized attack, Russian hackers tapped into the control systems of American power companies. This spring, the U.S. government acknowledged that the infiltration and probing attempts were sponsored by the Russian state. While alarming cyber threats like this periodically draw headlines, electric cooperatives fight off any number of attacks all day, every day. Co-ops across the nation are working together to shore up defenses against critical infrastructure hacking and data breaches.

Your electric co-op is constantly assessing and improving upon the technologies used to deliver power to homes and businesses. We do this to maintain reliable, affordable and environmentally conscious service to you, the member. We also recognize that improving service through technology can make us vulnerable. If we are not vigilant, co-ops could become victims of cyber intrusions, data theft, lost productivity and, potentially, service disruption.

Like rural Americans did decades ago, co-ops fought for a better quality of life for members who did not have electricity. And now co-ops have banded together for a new type of fight: one for the integrity of our ever-evolving electric grid and security of member data.

Regardless of size, co-op efforts include defenses like the implementation of next-generation firewalls and real-time system monitoring to identify threats almost instantaneously. And when a threat is detected, your co-op has technology in place to block it and deflect it.

Co-ops also recognize that human behavior sometimes poses cybersecurity threats. We train our employees on how to identify suspicious emails, links, and attachments. We instruct them on watching out for suspicious individuals entering and exiting their offices. Many co-ops have performed system penetration testing — hiring ethical hacking firms to test how easy (or difficult) it would be to hack into their systems and enter a building and gain physical access to computers and networks.

Of course, the electric grid isn’t the only target. As with all companies, hackers also seek to steal customer data, usually with the intent of selling it to other criminals. As part of our daily security efforts, co-ops adhere to national security compliance rules to protect credit card data. We maintain and back-up customer data on secure servers. Other barriers like two-factor logins or overly complex passwords also help thwart this kind of data theft. Co-ops take their role as stewards of your personal information seriously.

Cooperation among co-ops is part of our DNA. There are more than 900 co-ops across the nation, and we share cyber threat and defense information — both within our network and through a partnership with federal intelligence agencies. We pool our resources to share in protecting the grid. And just as co-ops do when a hurricane or flood decimates poles and wires, co-ops can call on other co-ops to assist in recovery efforts.

Cybersecurity efforts do not originate from any one person or department within the co-op. Our board of directors and employees view cybersecurity as a priority across the organization. Just like safety, cybersecurity is an integral part of our corporate culture, an ongoing effort that informs everything we do. New cyber threats are continually evolving. And so, too, are co-op efforts to fight back.

Co-ops are not vulnerable because we are small. We are targets because we are technologically progressive and because we are member-focused. Keeping the lights on, the air conditioner running, and the electric vehicle and mobile phones charged now requires much more than vigilantly maintaining physical poles and wires. Our shared heritage and community now extends to cyberspace. And just as we have throughout the decades, we will go where we have to and do what we must in order to improve the lives of our members and keep our system strong, resilient and secure.

About the Author

Don Bowman is chief operating officer at Wake Electric in Wake Forest.

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