Around a year ago, a central energy operator in the Queensland region of Australia experienced a detrimental incident that left nearly 470,000 homes and businesses across the area without power. A number of functions were affected down to the traffic lights. Situations like this can come with dangerous consequences. And they are certainly not unique to one part of the world. Energy threats exist in many places due to a variety of factors. One location we are seeing a culmination of them come together is right here in the United States.
Threats to the U.S. Energy Sector
One threat weighing on experts’ minds is the unpredictable nature of Russian hackers. In March, FBI officials warned that state-sponsored actors were scanning systems related to energy companies and other critical infrastructure. This concern has persisted as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine wages on. However, it’s not the only issue facing the United States’ energy sector.
A major challenge set to push energy providers to the limit is the mounting pressure of environmental events. The western half of North America is going through what has been referred to as a megadrought. This building heat creates higher demand for power. In turn, a significant strain is put on energy systems that are already bogged down by resource, cybersecurity and supply chain anxieties. This has led the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) to issue an alert, cautioning of the electricity shortages and blackouts that may ensue. “Grid operators in affected areas will need all available tools to keep the system in balance this summer,” stated Mark Olson, manager of reliability assessments at NERC.
Is the Energy Sector Prepared?
As these threats escalate, there is an important question that must be addressed. Is the energy sector prepared? While it may not be fully determined in the climate instance, one study shows that they may not be in the case of cybersecurity.
Energy executives are aware of the damage that cybersecurity breaches can cause. Research by risk management firm DNV concluded “that more than four-fifths of professionals working in the power, renewables, and oil and gas sectors believe a cyberattack on the industry is likely to cause operational shutdowns (85%) and damage to energy assets and critical infrastructure (84%),” according to Maria Henriquez at Security Magazine. Despite knowing, the action to prevent it is not quite up to par. In its key takeaways, the survey reports that many companies are taking a wait-and-see approach, they have yet to expand vulnerability monitoring to partners and third parties and they lack properly trained staff.
Taking Action to Protect the Energy Sector
While there is clearly still plenty of work to be done in securing energy operators, initiatives are being launched. The Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it is looking for applicants with cybersecurity offerings to join its first cohort of innovators supporting the Clean Energy Cybersecurity Accelerator initiative. By hosting this partnership program, the DOE hopes to further “test and validate technologies against the highest priority cyber threat scenarios, aiding in our efforts to outpace the speed of emerging threats to our evolving energy infrastructure,” as Kelly Speakes-Backman, principal deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, explained.
- “One year on from Callide Power Station fire, answers are still being sought” – Tobi Loftus, ABC News (Australia)
- “FBI says Russian hackers scanning U.S. energy systems and pose ‘current’ threat” – Sarah N. Lynch, Reuters
- “The American West should brace for a blackout summer, electricity regulator warns” – Tristan Bove, Fortune
- “3 key cybersecurity trends in the energy sector” – Maria Henriquez, Security Magazine
- “DOE Calls for Clean Energy Cybersecurity Accelerator Submissions” – Christine Thropp, ExecutiveGov
Learn about the ultimate solution to protect infrastructure networks, Net-Optix.