Utility Sector Cybersecurity Risks — And What Can Be Done About Them 

Utilities cybersecurity

An increasingly dangerous cyber threat landscape poses a risk to critical national infrastructure, particularly in the utility sector. Any kind of large-scale disruptive attack will cause a massive impact on government and corporate systems. Just last year, a double-extortion ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, a private fuel provider servicing the East Coast, caused a shutdown of its pipeline operation and IT systems. The event, dubbed the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack, triggered panic in national utilities cybersecurity circles and demonstrated how a security breach could put an end to the operations of major infrastructure and utilities. 
Although the cyber-attack mobilized the federal government into action by issuing cybersecurity directives and mandating fines for violators, the risk still lingers for the utility sector cybersecurity. For example, a report released by Dragos, Inc. found that between 2018 and 2020, 10% of ransomware attacks that occurred on industrial entities targeted electric utilities. Such disruptions can halt industrial activities and cause the malicious distribution of sensitive data. 
Fortunately, entities in the utility sector have multiple possibilities to detect and eliminate cybersecurity threats. These actions require proactive and preventive measures that start at the earliest opportunity. Here are three ways cybersecurity risks in the utility sector can be addressed: 

Hire more graduates with cybersecurity degrees 

Because of the new offensive attacks that are targeting utility companies, industry leaders are hiring more candidates with cybersecurity degrees. With the increasing digitization and automation of utility infrastructure, intruders can gain remote access and halt the operations of energy, transportation, water, and other utilities is critical to the day-to-day lives of Americans. 
For this reason, more cybersecurity professionals are being trained at top universities to have foundational skills in digital forensics, cyber law, and database design. The rising demand for cybersecurity experts is also being met by universities offering online cybersecurity programs that incorporate virtual labs into their curriculum. These labs, which are available to both on campus and online students, help future experts gain the necessary training, such as software testing, investigation, and even ethical hacking in a safe and protective environment. Graduates equipped with analytical skills using simulation activities are prepared for real-world cybersecurity attacks. And it is this real-world expertise that the utilities cybersecurity sector needs. 

Strengthen security infrastructure 

A complete utilities cybersecurity plan requires identifying critical assets of a utility and assessing the risks a company should mitigate. This can be done by completing an organizational study and examining the current operational resiliency of utility organizations. For example, quantifying the resulting monetary loss from data breaches and noting possible compliance violations can help companies mobilize their resources and prioritize the cybersecurity plans they should immediately implement. 
When they investigate the possible attacks that could happen and the resulting impacts, the utility companies can determine their risk tolerance and make more informed decisions regarding their cybersecurity actions. Having a pervasive security architecture will ensure the continuity of the operations and minimize any massive disruptions. 

Collaborate with different experts 

The most comprehensive cybersecurity plans for utilities are created in partnership with different experts. Meaningful access to information about the latest attacks and threats requires the expertise of information security staff, software engineers, and third-party vendors. Looking at a company’s cybersecurity infrastructure from various perspectives can address loopholes and vulnerabilities that current protective mechanisms fail to address. 
Further, collaboration with government and public entities and other private institutions can prove valuable in maintaining the operations of utilities and shielding them from the ever-evolving and rapidly changing strains of threats and attacks. 
Cybersecurity is a round-the-clock responsibility that necessitates technology upgrades and workforce training. Because so much is at stake when it comes to utilities, companies should invest more and exert their best efforts to mitigate the risks that could arise from utilities cybersecurity attacks.  

Exclusively contributed by Bree Jensen for riskxchange.co 

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