A cyber security plan from the experts - South Central Power

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A cyber security plan from the experts

July 1, 2016

Lessons you can learn from how electric co-ops guard against Internet bad guys

By Paul Wesslund


Could a computer hacker shut down the nation’s electric grid?

It’s a question asked in popular books, congressional hearings – and it’s even the plot point in the 2007 Bruce Willis movie “Live Free or Die Hard.”

Graphic with tips to protect your computerMost experts answer that question with, “probably not.” Part of the reason for that answer is there are a lot of people in government and the utility industry like Barry Lawson.

As Associate Director of Power Delivery and Reliability for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), Lawson spends his time working with electric co-op utilities to try to protect utilities from digital hackers.

Lawson and several others at NRECA run cyber security training sessions, publish security safety materials and develop techniques and software not only to keep the nation’s electric supply reliable and secure, but to protect sensitive member, employee and co-op data and information from identity theft.

Lawson says co-ops make a high priority out of protecting themselves from the constant variety of cyber computer attacks by everyone from organized crime to hobbyist hackers, who are constantly launching attacks on every computer in the world.

“We’re all being hacked,” says Lawson. “As soon as you plug a new computer into the Internet, it’s being hacked by software that looks for Internet connections by the millions.”

Lawson says we can all use advice that’s the basis for how utilities protect themselves from cyber attacks: “try to make it as difficult as possible, and put in as many layers of protection as possible.”

Here are Lawson’s top four tips for protecting your computer:

  1. Make sure you have antivirus software installed on your computer, and remember to keep it updated.
  2. Don’t send e-mails containing personal information, like your date of birth or Social Security Number, because that increases opportunities for mal-actors to steal your identify. Be careful of typing a credit card number into a website—if you do, make sure that it’s a secure website. You can tell whether it’s secure by looking for the “s” at the beginning of the website address. Most begin with “http://.” A secure site will begin with “https://.”
  3. Attachments or links in an email can contain malware that can infect your computer. Don’t open an e-mail attachment or click a link unless you know the person sending it, and you were expecting them to send it to you (hackers can take over an account and make it look like it’s from a friend.)
  4. Monitor children’s online activity, and make sure they know how to practice good cyber security. Visit the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team’s (UC-CERT) website for security tips on how to keep children safe online (https://www.us-cert.gov/ncas/tips/ST05-002).

Paul Wesslund writes on cooperative issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.