Could a computer hacker shut down the nation’s electric grid?
It’s a question that’s been asked in books, movies and congressional hearings, and we’ve heard about how the recent Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack disrupted the flow of oil in the Northeastern U.S. Closer to home, classes at an Iowa community college were cancelled for two weeks in June because of a hacking incident.
Of course, it’s cause for concern but rest easy because experts answer that question about hackers shutting down the grid by stating, “probably not.” That’s because the cybersecurity and physical security experts with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) and local cooperative staff work hard to keep the power grid secure. These pros work closely with other industry experts and government agencies to keep on top of existing and potential threats from around the world to protect both the reliability and safety of our electric grid.
A defensive, in-depth strategy protects critical assets from severe earth and space weather, cyber incidents, vandalism, and other natural and manmade events. With continual monitoring and experience from decades of lessons learned, cooperatives and other power suppliers can prevent down time and efficiently restore power when necessary.
Our industry has these experts working with us and for us:
- The Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council works with the federal government and the electric power sector to prepare for and respond to disasters or threats to critical infrastructure.
- The Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center collects and disseminates threat indicators, analyses, and warnings to assist our industry in taking protective action. Information is distributed directly through secure portals to those in the industry.
- Electric cooperatives also work closely with the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Energy, and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to deal with potential threats and vulnerabilities to the system.
Protecting critical data
In addition to protecting the electric grid, electric cooperatives also protect sensitive member, employee and co-op data and information from identity theft. NRECA experts have emphasized that utilities protect themselves and their members from cyber attacks by trying to make it as difficult as possible to enter co-op systems and by putting in as many layers of protection as possible around the systems.
Beyond the protection our electric cooperative provides, it’s also critical for you to protect your personal computer from these same types of threats. These four tips can offer protection from the millions of hackers attempting to break into your system:
- Install antivirus software on your computer and keep it updated.
- Don’t send emails with any personal information (date of birth or Social Security number) and only use your credit card details on secure websites (urls that begin with https:// rather than http://–without the “s” at the end).
- Because attachments or links in emails can contain malware that may infect your computer, don’t open any attachments from an unknown person, and don’t open attachments or links from someone you know unless you are expecting it. Hackers can take over an account and make it look like a link or an attachment is from a friend.
- Monitor your children’s online activity and make sure they understand and follow good cyber security practices. Find more details from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.