Sharing data protects our nation’s critical infrastructure

When WannaCry cyber-attacks struck corporations throughout Europe and Asia, America’s natural gas utilities maximized information sharing systems for near real-time communication of threat information and mitigation techniques. Through solid public-private partnerships with the Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the government intelligence community, symptoms, fixes and other relevant data were shared quickly and efficiently.

Within hours, gas companies could confidently confirm that no compromise in connection with WannaCry had been identified by a domestic natural gas utility.

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Natural gas utilities have a responsibility to their customers and communities for safe, reliable delivery. Natural gas provides essential energy for furnaces, water heaters and stoves and benefits nearly 68 million residential customers and 5.4 million commercial customers like restaurants, stores and schools. Nearly 200,000 U.S. industrial facilities make the products we use every day with natural gas, and it is increasingly used for generating electricity.

 

Natural gas has made energy more affordable, accessible, reliable and efficient — boosting the United States’ economy over that past decade and leading to the lowest carbon dioxide emissions in 25 years.

Pipelines transport natural gas from the site of production to the consumer. Statistics show that natural gas pipelines are one of the safest forms of energy transportation. Because of the engineered resilience of the pipeline system, natural gas delivery outages are extremely rare even under the most extreme circumstances.

Advanced natural gas systems such as combined heat and power (CHP) can generate electricity in a building with clean natural gas and create heat to warm the same facility. In the fall of 2012, Superstorm Sandy caused electric outages across much of the northeast, but at Princeton University and New York University, their CHP systems kept the lights on and the students remained warm. Hotels, hospitals and senior living communities are investing in these distributed generation systems because they can be assured they will not be left in the dark.

This advanced era in energy delivery is accompanied by emerging threats to our security. America and its institutions are under attack by enemies foreign and domestic who need only a computer to wreak havoc on our day-to-day lives. It is incumbent upon the private sector and our government to work together and remain on the cybersecurity offensive.

America’s investor-owned natural gas utilities are meeting the threat daily via skilled personnel, robust cybersecurity system protections, an industry commitment to security and a successful ongoing cybersecurity partnership with federal and state governments.

Just as with pipeline safety, natural gas utilities apply layers of resilience for cybersecurity by employing firewalls and other tools to improve the prevention, detection and mitigation of cyber penetration. Further, natural gas delivery systems are mechanical by nature and can still be run manually if necessary. We move natural gas using pressure to control the amount entering and leaving the system. Layered onto this control system architecture are devices that detect changes in pressure, which serve as a safeguard to prevent internal gas pressure from threatening pipeline integrity.

The proactive outreach of DHS and DOE to the natural gas industry regarding WannaCry situational awareness is a successful example of public-private partnerships at work. The information sharing system used by gas utilities provides all natural gas distribution and transmission companies in the U.S. and Canada unfettered access to real-time actionable information, security alerts and analysis to enable them to better secure their cyber and physical assets. 

WannaCry is just one example of many where the natural gas industry has used the system to share information necessary to mitigate a coordinated attack. Natural gas utilities face these threats daily, and the industry grows ever stronger because of a combination of vigilance and coordination.

There are several areas where the federal government can help improve cybersecurity management by the private sector, which owns more than 80 percent of critical energy infrastructure. These include improvements to the process of getting security clearances for non-governmental personnel, the evaluation of security and products used by vendors and an accurate understanding of the intricate system of operations and regulations currently in place. 

The CEOs of companies that own and operate America’s critical infrastructure welcome the White House’s engagement on furthering the public-private partnerships that enhance our cybersecurity protection capabilities. We are eager to work with the Trump administration and our industry allies on the shared goal of delivering essential energy at affordable prices and keeping our customers and communities safe.

Dave McCurdy is president and CEO of the American Gas Association, which represents more than 200 local energy utility companies delivering natural gas to 177 million Americans nationwide. 


The views of contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.