Employee Education Is the Key to Enhanced Protection for Energy Companies

It’s a surprise to no one that computer systems need enhanced protection to reduce their susceptibility to cyberattacks, as recent events such as the WannaCry and NotPetya attacks have shown us. These infestations proved that government operations and critical infrastructures are as much at risk as corporate systems.

Of particular concern are energy distribution systems, which support nearly every activity in modern society. With this in mind, security professionals at energy companies are exploring ways to protect their operations and our way of life.

Expert Advice on Enhanced Protection for the Energy Sector

Below is a short interview with Gordon MacKay, chief technology officer (CTO) at Digital Defense, Inc. He works with chief information security officers (CISOs) across a variety of industries to help them devise protection strategies.

QuestionIs there some tool, set of capabilities or procedure that power companies should abide by that can minimize or eliminate the possibility of large-scale disruption of the power systems?

MacKay: As part of my own experience in interacting with information security professionals within the energy sector, the overwhelming consensus is there is no silver bullet solution to these threats — reducing the risk of such events includes a multipronged approach. A general, common strategy includes an encompassing cybersecurity defense program, which is driven from the top executive level that permeates the entire organization and includes a significant cyberdefense budget.

What advice do you offer energy providers’ CISOs regarding where to start or prioritize their efforts to protect their assets from cyberattacks?

MacKay: The list of prioritized items is lengthy and depends on the threat model, but a general proposed prioritized list includes:

  • Security awareness training — it’s a must;
  • An ongoing, enterprisewide vulnerability management program (not just parts of the network, but all assets, even cloud assets);
  • An incident response (IR) program that includes internal, tangible threat attack data from deception technology, intrusion detection systems (IDS) and intrusion protection systems (IPS) correlated versus threat intelligence and asset vulnerability data, a threat hunting program, and a multitiered security analyst team as part of the IR program response; and
  • A set of sound security measurements so as to gauge the effectiveness of the program, which is fed back into it for the purpose of continuous improvement.

hat is the best way to assure that your employees understand what is at stake and how to best safeguard their company?

MacKay: One of the topmost initiatives an organization must take on is to educate the entire employee base on security risks on an ongoing basis. More so, this education program ideally should be disseminated from the top executive level downward and ensure employees are fully engaged, positively enlightened and motivated to help protect the organization. There are security awareness programs on the market that help with this, but of course, it all starts with the intention and motivation of the organization.

So while cyberattacks against critical infrastructure areinevitable, the best defenses start with training, but don’t end there. Power providers need to increase their awareness of their assets and be able to monitor and quickly respond to threats.

MacKa: By including intelligence on what is vulnerable in the network, alongside other threat intelligence and security incidents, the organization is able to automatically lower priority on certain threat events for which assets are not vulnerable in favor of threat events related to assets that do have significant vulnerabilities.

Listen to the podcast: Nuclear Facilities Under Attack And Cross-Industry Lessons In Cybersecurity

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Scott Koegler

Freelance Writer and Former CIO

Scott Koegler practiced IT as a CIO for 15 years. He also has more than 20 years experience as a technology journalist covering topics ranging from software and services through business strategy. Scott publishes ec-bp.com, a supply chain industry newsletter and has written for publications including Network Computing, Forbes, Internet Evolution, and many others.