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Is Security really that big of an issue for utilities?

Are utilities really that vulnerable to cyber security threats, physical access and controls threats?  After all, this industry has operated and maintained perhaps the most significant engineering feat the world has ever seen in the form of the energy delivery grid.   Yet, the incidence of major security breaches to this system have been few and far between for the century this industry has existed. 

While the industry has a nearly flawless record for preventing such major breeches, when they do happen, the consequences can be catastrophic.  James Rogers, CEO, Duke Energy, gave a keynote at last year’s EEI Annual Conference.  His theme was simple…the industry’s biggest challenge and most significant issue that needs addressed is the ongoing security of the world’s energy supply.  Specifically, he focused on electricity and gas, but certainly the safe and reliable supply of water is just as critical.

If we focus for the moment on just electricity and gas, the threats are almost endless.  The potential information systems and physical asset points of breech are so large that they boggle the mind.  This is especially poignant when you take into account the industry is adding more intelligence to the supply chain via initiatives such as the “smart grid” at an unprecedented rate.  All of this intelligence is a good thing, but it opens up a substantially larger area of opportunity for terrorists. 

Rogers is not alone in his concern for the security of the world’s energy supply.  Numerous industry surveys of top executives and analysts agree this issue of securing the energy supply is the single largest threat to the viability of the industry as well as our way of life as we know it.  Imagine a world without electricity or natural gas at our fingertips.  Certainly, it seems unlikely that the world could be shut down on a massive scale that would be completely ubiquitous in nature.  However, it is easily imaginable that large regional blackouts could be triggered by such security breaches.  Even more frightening, is the prospect that not only could these energy grids be shut down, but they could be brought down for days, or even weeks given the sophistication of potential threats that are now known.  Such an event would create panic and desperation on a scale the world has never known.

The modern world is completely dependent upon the reliable and adequate supply of energy.  The threat of energy terrorism is real.  It is a threat that must be dealt with 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.  Energy providers get no time off or time to prepare.  The imminent threat of such terrorism is real and will never end.  And, while the industry has a remarkably stellar track record in this area, the threats are exponentially growing larger and more sophisticated.  Now, more than ever, energy providers must adopt a level of sophistication that is flawless, and as well adopt protocols and procedures should the unthinkable happen. 

The good news is our industry totally gets it.  We understand the severity of the issue and there is no one better equipped to deal with these threats than the professionals that secure these assets every day.  The industry will continue to adopt new solutions and techniques to prevent such terrorism.  So while the threat will never cease, the industry never sleeps.  Are you up to the challenge?

Brian Jones

Senior Principal, SAP

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