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Navigating the Vulnerabilities of Digitalization and Modernization

image credit: ID 23680154 © Fernando Gregory |

The U.S. energy grid is in dire need of modernization.  The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the energy infrastructure a D+, saying the majority of transmission and distribution lines have exceeded their 50-year life expectancy.  While the World Energy Council’s report warned the energy sector as a highly attractive target for cyber-attacks aimed at disrupting operations, shutting down infrastructure, triggering economic and financial upset or even loss of life and massive environmental damage.  Though it sometimes presents its own set of challenges, technology is playing a major role in reshaping the grid and reducing the $2 trillion investment needed to bring the grid up to date.  Will the advantages outweigh the risks?  Smarter infrastructure improves storm response and identifies issues before an outage occurs.  Consumer devices allow customers to manage consumption and efficiency.  However, hesitation to carte blanche energy industry reform persists.  Beyond those that simply hate change, like me when the font changes on my browser or Hem and Haw in Who Moved My Cheesethere are those who fear the very real dangers involved with modernization and digitalization. As the energy industry becomes more digital it becomes more vulnerable.  The increasing innovation of interconnection and digitization of the energy sector with smart grids and digital oil fields, smart devices and Internet of Things keeps us current but has ultimately increased the risk of cyber attacks.  

Is there any way to increase preparedness? Cybersecurity has become the topic of conversation, or the lack thereof.  Admittedly, no system is entirely immune from attack but hardening and modernizing the grid with the most up to date security systems would increase preparedness.

A panel of energy experts told lawmakers the government needs to share classified information with the private sector to combat cyber attacks.  Jim Robb, president and CEO of the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) expressed concerns about the time it takes the government to declassify information and administer security clearances for critical energy personnel.  Robb went on the explain what is being done to address the threat.  NERC worked with the Electric Power Research Institute to provide an independent assessment of industry supply chain risks.  The goal is to acquire information that will provide strategic warning about the potential risks of compromised supply chains, and to get a better sense of the scope of the threat. 

Despite NERC’s concerns, the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER) states they regularly provide both classified and declassified briefings to the private sector on emerging threats.  However, Karen Evans, assistant secretary of CESER, is asking Congress for clarity on how best to share information and clarification of the legal responsibilities and liabilities of private industry, stating “The legal framework to share information needs to be more robust.”  Formed a year ago, CESER was created to protect the nation’s security, economic prosperity, and energy infrastructure.  By facilitating coordination across the government and with the energy sector they aim to enhance response and recovery efforts while coordinating Federal capabilities to mitigate the impact of energy disruptions. 

Along with information sharing, Congress will also review a separate plan that would authorize the DOE to provide financial assistance to states to develop or revise state energy security plans. The endless statistics of cybercrime provides the need for cybersecurity.  How will the energy industry successfully counter cyber attack during a necessary transformation to modernization and digitalization?

Nevelyn Black's picture

Thank Nevelyn for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 16, 2019 9:36 pm GMT

Funds for this modernization should be a top priority. And while we're replacing equipment that's simply too old and used to continue reliably, it's a perfect opportunity to rebuild it to be smarter, more efficient, and more flexible

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