State, private sector prepare for cyberattacks ‘like a flood or blizzard’

This piece is presented by SDN Communications.

By almost any measurement, cyberattacks on the nation’s critical infrastructure are on the rise. That’s increasing the need for the private and public sectors to work together on cybersecurity at the state as well as the national level.

So it was encouraging that representatives of public and private organizations in South Dakota met this summer and recommitted their intent to work together to strengthen cybersecurity systems in the state.

Representatives of government and the telecommunications and utility industries gathered in Sioux Falls to discuss ways to share information and resources. The partnership remains in the early stages, but group members plan to seek additional partners and meet again.

The South Dakota Department of Public Safety shared a meeting recap that indicated the discussion focused on protecting electrical grids and communications systems.

The state needs to be prepared for cyberattacks just as if the threat was a natural disaster such as a flood or blizzard, said Trevor Jones, secretary of the South Dakota Public Safety Department.

“Cybersecurity is never done,” Jones said. “We have to remain vigilant because any attacks on anyone’s digital infrastructure will have far-reaching consequences.”

South Dakotans, like all Americans, rely heavily on good, reliable power supplies and electronic communications services. Extended outages would be highly disruptive, at the very least, and potentially deadly for many people.

Issues that the partnership need to explore range from detecting threats to responding to attacks.

Executives with SDN Communications were among those attending the meeting.

“I’m encouraged that this is an area of priority for the state of South Dakota,” said Jake VanDewater, director of network operations. “As cybersecurity threats evolve, it’s important that critical infrastructure operators are equipped with threat intelligence, so they can appropriately respond and address cybersecurity attacks.”

Companies and associations involved in the partnership project include:

  • SDN Communications
  • Midco
  • Xcel Energy
  • South Dakota Telecommunications Association
  • Northwestern Energy Co.
  • East River Electric Cooperative
  • Western Area Power Administration
  • MidAmerican Energy
  • Verizon
  • Black Hills Energy

Government agencies involved in the cybersecurity effort include:

  • South Dakota Department of Public Safety
  • The U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • South Dakota Fusion Center
  • South Dakota Bureau of Information and Telecommunications
  • South Dakota National Guard
  • South Dakota Attorney General’s Office
  • South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation

Work on a similar but larger-scaled partnership is underway at the national level.

Member concerns must be worked out at the state and national level, such as making sure the details of sensitive business information are protected from public exposure. However, in general, the concept of entities sharing information to protect the public is positive.

The Department of Homeland Security acknowledges as a matter of written policy the importance of privacy in maintaining public trust and confidence. It also acknowledges its responsibility to protect personally identifiable information from loss, unauthorized access, destruction, modification or unintended disclosure.

Similar precautions will need to be implemented at the state level.

The stakes are enormous. Computer networks and utility grids are foundations of the U.S. economy. They need to be protected well, and that requires group coordination.

Cybercriminals and terrorists do not respect corporate or political borders. Interconnectivity requires partnerships to collect and make good use of information from a wide-ranging and diverse coalition of experts.

Greater cooperation among local and state entities will increase the effectiveness of fighting cyberthreats at the macro level.

And now is the time to get involved; October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month. Homeland Security started the national campaign in 2004 to engage and educate public and private sector partners about the importance of cybersecurity.

To help businesses build a cyber strategy, SDN Communications recently published a newsletter, “Cybersecurity for Every Business.” Visit this page to request your free copy.

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State, private sector prepare for cyberattacks ‘like a flood or blizzard’

Increased partnerships between the state and private utilities are helping prepare for cyberthreats like they were natural disasters.

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