State stepping up cyber security for utility distribution assets

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH)–Connecticut utility regulators revealed Monday that electric, natural gas and other distribution services have been penetrated by computer hackers. The defenses, like computer firewalls, work, but there is concern that they could someday fail.

Governor Dannel Malloy said that there were 40 million attempts to hack into state computers last year alone.

Just as many parts of Connecticut’s utility infrastructure, like one power substation in Bridgeport, have been shored up to protect them from high water like during ‘Super Storm Sandy,’ the distribution assets must also be protected from cyber attacks. All of the assets are controlled by computers on some level.

“Every day there are probes, people trying to get into the systems,” said Peter Clarke of Northeast Utilities. “Fortunately, our layered securities have worked.”

But because the computers that control the flow of electricity to your community and eventually to your home or business are under constant attack from both foreign and domestic sources, the state is formulating a super cyber-security system with the power companies.

“The chance of an attack doing serious damage to the State of Connecticut cannot be taken lightly, and therefore we are stepping up our game in preparation,” said Gov. Malloy.

Art House, the state’s top utility regulator  admitted Monday that a successful computer hacking attack on any one part of the system could potentially cascade into a major, extended power outage.

“Of course there are firewalls, of course there are protections, you are subjected to a weak link,” House said.

A first-in-the nation report on utility cyber security is calling for regular cyber audits by outside, third party entities, and drills and trainings, just like for a hurricane.

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