View recent news coverage highlighting interviews and quotes from LPPC.
May 9, 2018
By Tim Starks
HILL GETS BUSY — Three separate committees are taking action on cybersecurity-related legislation today across both sides of the Hill. Perhaps the most significant among the bunch is a House Foreign Affairs markup of legislation that would establish a bug bounty program at the State Department, following the widely regarded success of similar initiatives across the Pentagon and at the IRS. The legislation (H.R. 5433) also mirrors efforts in Congress to expand such programs, like the push to create one at DHS (S. 1281) that passed the Senate last month.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee, meanwhile, is scheduled to consider a handful of cybersecurity bills. One (H.R. 5175) would direct the Energy Department to initiate a program to protect the physical security and cybersecurity of pipelines and liquefied natural gas facilities. A second (H.R. 5239) would create a voluntary DOE program to test the cybersecurity of products intended for use in the bulk-power system. A third (H.R. 5240) would seek to strengthen public-private partnerships on cyber. And the fourth (H.R. 5174) would make explicit that Energy Department leaders are responsible for cyber and other emergency response functions.
Later in the day, a House Appropriations subcommittee will mark up draft legislation that would provide fiscal 2019 funding for agencies including Commerce and Justice. The Commerce Department, home of the technical standards agency NIST, has a big cybersecurity role, while the Justice Department houses operations devoted to prosecuting cybercrime.
HAPPY WEDNESDAY and welcome to Morning Cybersecurity! Sure, because what the world needs is a new generation of super-spiders, jumping all over the place at the command of evil dictators wielding them as a spooky army. Send your thoughts, feedback and especially tips to firstname.lastname@example.org, and be sure to follow @POLITICOPro and @MorningCybersec. Full team info below.
TODAY: SOFTWARE, POWER INDUSTRY OFFICIALS VISIT CONGRESS — BSA | The Software Alliance is flying representatives of member companies such as Microsoft, IBM and Trend Micro into Washington to discuss cybersecurity and other items on its agenda. The cybersecurity component includes advocating for bolstering the workforce and explaining how artificial intelligence can defend computer networks. BSA has set up meetings with a range of cyber-savvy lawmaker offices, like Reps. Will Hurd and Adam Schiff and Sen. Cory Gardner, as well as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Members of the Large Public Power Council, a utility group, will also visit lawmakers today. Representatives will meet to discuss cybersecurity with members and staffers of the House and Senate Homeland Security panels as well as the House Intelligence and Energy and Commerce committees. In addition to the group’s president, John Di Stasio, and regional power authority representatives, the council is bringing in technical cyber experts.
WAITING FOR THE NEXT SHOE TO DROP — Iran must stop hacking the U.S. and its allies, the administration said Tuesday after President Donald Trump announced a withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. A White House statement said Trump was “making clear that, in addition to never developing a nuclear weapon, the Iranian regime must … end its cyberattacks against the United States and our allies, including Israel.” In recent years, Tehran has deployed its hackers to disrupt the oil giant Saudi Aramco as well as to steal trade secrets and research from universities in the U.S., Israel and many other countries. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell voiced support Tuesday for Trump’s holistic approach to the Iranian threat, saying in a statement that Tehran’s “malign behavior across the broader Middle East,” including its “use of cyberattacks,” should be “addressed in a wider regional effort.”
Cyber experts will be watching to see if Iranian hackers step up their attacks on U.S. targets. As Eric reported recently, threat intelligence researchers are concerned this will happen. Priscilla Moriuchi, director of strategic threat development at Recorded Future and former head of the NSA’s East Asia and Pacific cyber threats office, said her company expects U.S. financial and energy sector firms to face aggressive attacks from Iran “within months, if not sooner.”
FRESH STATS — Cyber crime cost Americans approximately $1.42 billion in 2017, according to a report from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center published Tuesday. The FBI center receives nearly 300,000 complaints each year, according to the report. Payment scams, data breaches and phishing attacks topped the list of crimes, with identity theft and business email compromises also making the top 10. Ultimately, business email compromise schemes led to the most losses, with $676 million, compared with romantic scams and other trickery coming in second and payment scams ranking third. Data breaches came in fifth, accounting for $77 million in losses. The states with the most reported victims and the highest losses are also among the largest: California, Texas, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania.
PAYING THE PRICE — DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told senators Tuesday that her department was pretty far along in ensuring that federal agency contractors are removing Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab software from their systems. DHS issued the directive, which Kaspersky is fighting in court, amid security fears last year.
“For many of the third party providers, they weren't even aware they had Kaspersky on their systems and within their products,” Nielsen told the Senate Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee. She said DHS was looking at ways to establish consequences for anyone who doesn’t pull the products. For its part, DHS is also looking at ways it can, under existing powers, “pause and turn off contracts” when there’s a concern like Kaspersky software or a data breach.
At the same hearing, Nielsen said DHS plans to host an election security briefing to talk about what it’s doing to safeguard state and local election administrators via voluntary assistance. When Sen. Jon Tester asked what happens when states resist DHS’ voluntary aid, Nielsen said that one of the goals of the briefing was getting lawmakers to “help us message to the state and local officials what they need to do to secure the elections.”
FROM INDEPENDENCE AVENUE TO MAIN STREET — The House approved legislation Tuesday meant to improve cybersecurity assistance offered through small-business development centers, which are Small Business Administration-backed centers that provide technical support. Under the bill (H.R. 3170), the Small Business Administration would be required to develop a cyber counseling certification program to help center employees provide advice to small business owners. The measure passed by voice vote.
RECENTLY ON PRO CYBERSECURITY — The Senate Intelligence Committee finalized its election security report with new findings and recommendations. … Georgia’s governor vetoed a hacking bill that cybersecurity experts warned would cause more digital threats. … Russia hackers waged a campaign of digital threats under the guise of the Islamic State. … Facebook unveiled another effort to combat Russian methods of election interference. … House Republicans believe Trump will override the Justice Department's refusal to turn over documents.
TWEET OF THE DAY — I think the pasta is hacking back, probably?
— Nearly 75 percent of organizations were probably or definitely hacked or experienced a data breach within the last year due to a compromised application, according to a new report from Arxan. The company surveyed around 1,400 IT firms across the U.S., EU and Asia.
PEOPLE ON THE MOVE
— New Jersey’s former chief technology officer and first cybersecurity adviser, Dave Weinstein, has joined cybersecurity firm Claroty as its vice president of threat research, the company announced Tuesday.
— The New York Times looks at how West Virginia is trying to protect its elections from hackers.
— House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes is feuding with the Justice Department over information involving a source who aided special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. The Washington Post
— “No, Apple is not making it harder for cops to hack iPhones.” CyberScoop
— The Trump administration’s rescission package would pull back funding for two technology loan programs. Nextgov
— A popular Android app left user information exposed. Motherboard
— A look at the new NSA/Cyber Command cyber warfare center from CyberScoop.
— “Study: Attack on KrebsOnSecurity Cost IoT Device Owners $323K”
— The former WikiLeaks fan who made public some unflattering internal messages explained why. Daily Beast
— Joy Reid's cybersecurity expert once wasted the FBI's time with an investigation that went nowhere, a source told Buzzfeed.
— Iran's cyber police warned about terrorist groups plotting in cyberspace. Fars News Agency
— Alaska officials say hackers broke into the state’s election system a little in 2016, but didn’t do any damage. Anchorage Daily News
— Twitter might be testing encrypted direct messages. Gizmodo
— Federal agency IT specialists are getting older. Nextgov
That’s all for today. Although maybe jumping spiders aren’t that scary if they can get shooed away just by holding your arms out.
May 5, 2018
By Marianne Levine and Theordoric Meyer
FLY-IN: Members of the Large Public Power Council are hitting up the Hill today to talk about cybersecurity issues. Among the lawmakers they will meet with are Reps. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas), Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) and Will Hurd (R-Texas).
FLY-IN: Members of the American Public Health Association held a fly-in Tuesday to call for more public health funding. The offices they met with included those of Reps. Bob Brady (D-Pa.), Dwight Evans (D-Pa.), Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Andy Barr (R-Ky.) and Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
SPOTTED: At the Nelson Mullins Annual Rooftop Gala atop its offices last night, according to a PI tipster: Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.); and Reps. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), Tom Rice (R-S.C.), Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), Mike Capuano (D-Mass.), Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.), Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), Richard Neal (D-Mass.), Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) and Joe Wilson (R-S.C.).
SPOTTED: At the Games For Impact event hosted by the Entertainment Software Association on Capitol Hill last night, according to a PI tipster: Reps. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.), Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Bill Foster (D-Ill.), Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Hank Johnson (D-Ga.).
SPOTTED: At the Rivers of Recovery seventh annual congressional reception last night, according to a PI tipster: Reps. Martha Roby (R-Ala.), Jeff Duncan (R.S.C.), Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.); Gen. George Joulwan; Liz Williams of Williams & Company; Sam Whitfield of the Consumers Bankers Association; Jeff Hogg of RAI Services; Zach Hartman of Anheuser-Busch; Hayden Rogers and Scott Eckart of Emergent Strategies; and others.
March 29, 2018
By Gino Harel and Catherine Varge of Survey
In December 2015, some 225,000 households were deprived of electricity in Ukraine. A year later, it was the turn of a part of the capital, Kiev, to be plunged into darkness. These two failures are far from trivial: they were caused by acts of hacking.
"In Ukraine, I think it was a clear signal in the industry," says Johanne Duhaime, Vice President of Information Technologies and Communications at Hydro-Québec.
For several years now, Hydro-Québec has been relying on a team to provide a cybersecurity watch. Events in Ukraine prompted the company to raise its defense measures.
"We have started to put plans in place to increase our monitoring center, to 24/7 [...] accelerate the modernization of our infrastructure to protect us more," said Ms. Duhaime.
Behind the 2015 operation in Ukraine, cybersecurity experts have identified a family of malware called BlackEnergy, unable to trace the perpetrators. The 2016 attack was also researched by computer security experts. ESET has determined that this attack was carried out using a new software called Industroyer able to remotely control industrial control systems of electrical infrastructure.
Hydro-Québec's experts have to deal with hundreds of incidents related to computer security every year. Attempts to intrude by sending malicious emails, for example, occur regularly
Hydro-Québec also conducts tests with its employees, using trapped messages. People are caught, admits Johanne Duhaime, but their number is decreasing.
"We do a lot of work on human behavior and education [...] People tend to call and say," I got an email, he's suspicious, is that okay? " ", she says.
It could also happen that an employee inserts a personal USB key into a company computer, which can also pose a risk.
Hydro-Québec assures that it has not experienced cyberintrusion in its systems.
Johanne Duhaime said that her team pays particular attention to Internet traffic from certain countries, such as Ukraine, Russia or Korea. "When there are elements where we see that there are IP addresses that come from these countries, we tend to be more vigilant [...] We will rather be more proactive and perhaps block the source of these requests at source, "she says.
It happens less than 10 times a year, she says.
One billion threats
During a testimony before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, on March 22, in Ottawa, the head of the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSE) revealed the extent of cybersecurity challenges that her agency faces.
"We are now blocking more than a billion malicious attacks aimed at compromising government systems, on average every day," said Greta Bossenmaier, head of the CST.
These numerous incidents target Government of Canada networks and range from a simple reconnaissance exercise to check for vulnerabilities in systems to actual attempts to exploit vulnerabilities, or to install malware.
The last federal budget provides $ 507 million for dedicated measures over the next five years, including the creation of a Canadian Cyber Security Center. Ottawa is also scheduled to announce its new national cyber security strategy in the near future.
Last fall, the cybersecurity company Symantec revealed the presence of other malicious software in computers of power companies in the United States. The group identified behind these intrusions is called Dragonfly.
The FBI and the US Department of Homeland Security confirm they have identified victims of cyberintrusions in the energy field, including the nuclear sector. Hackers have also been able to penetrate aviation, water and other manufacturing networks.
According to Symantec, Dragonfly's phishing emails were also spotted at three organizations in Canada, but it was not possible to confirm any intrusions.
In the United States, the operation would have allowed the attackers to break through networks of small commercial facilities, including targeted infected emails. Their long-term goal would be to use these smaller networks to reach larger targets. They have already managed to position themselves to carry out sabotage activities, believe the experts.
"For the past two years, we have seen our opponents become more interested in the ways of harming [our] systems. Their techniques have developed, "says the head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security, Jeanette Manfra.
Ms. Manfra manages a team located in an office building in downtown Arlington, Virginia. It has an operational center at the heart of computer security throughout the United States: the National Center for Cyber Security and Communications Integration.
"The operations center is analyzing cyber incidents that are reported daily by various government agencies and private sector companies in the United States," she says.
Ms. Manfra estimates that the number of incidents reported to her center is 10,000 in the last three months alone.
There is an exponential growth in the number of devices and organizations whose networks are connected to the Internet. It creates a lot of vulnerability that criminals seek to exploit.
On March 15, the United States announced a new series of sanctions against Russia, accusing the country of having taken two forms of cyber-interference in the United States. Attempts to destabilize the electoral process in 2016 ... and computer attacks on critical infrastructures. According to Russian news agencies, Moscow considers these accusations unfounded and is now preparing its own retaliatory measures in response to the sanctions.
Hydro-Québec is reassuring
Even though Internet-connected devices are constantly growing in number, Hydro-Québec recalls that it has a peculiarity that other electric companies do not have to prevent hacker attacks on these systems: it has its own own telecommunications network to support its electrical mission.
The risks of intrusion are lower, are almost zero, because it's just us who are on the network [...] We control our entire environment.
Johanne Duhaime, Vice President of Information Technologies and Communications, Hydro-Québec
"We are in a good position," adds Ms. Duhaime. That does not mean that we are safe and that there is zero risk [...] In cybersecurity, we must never say that we are at zero risk. "
While the energy sector in the United States is clearly in the spotlight of hackers, industry representatives point out that power grid operators have standards to meet, even in terms of cybersecurity. They are established by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC). Hydro-Québec is subject to it.
The US electricity sector is made up of a multitude of private companies, but also more than 2000 utilities that produce or distribute electricity in markets of small or large size.
John Di Stasio is the president of an organization that brings together the 26 largest public utilities in the United States. According to him, the standards in place would probably have prevented the kind of breakdowns that occurred following the cyberattacks in Ukraine in 2015 and 2016.
"Our standards require us to provide multiple layers of protection that did not exist in Ukraine," he says.
In this game of cat and mouse between cyberassailers and cyberdefenders of power grids, Mr. Di Stasio believes that the industry has made some progress.
I think we have gained ground. However, we can not predict what lies ahead or what the nature of the threats will be or what they will target.
"These threats are evolving and all we can do is remain vigilant and continue to do the things that work to defend us from known threats," concludes Di Stasio.
POWER MARKETS: Groups Unite to Lobby FERC on Reforms
March 7, 2018
By Rod Kuckro
A broad coalition of 10 organizations not usually on the same page when it comes to electricity policy are asking federal regulators to apply five principles to any changes in the rules governing wholesale power markets.
Their common concerns were spelled out in a March 5 letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The letter said this is the time for FERC "to provide a clear vision for how it can best support, rather than interfere with, market-based mechanisms and healthy competition."
The letter from the 10 groups is intended to address the FERC inquiry into resilience as well as a FERC docket opened last year on the intersection of markets and state policies.
"The kettle is getting closer to boiling in terms of FERC taking another raft of actions involving issues around state policies and federal market design," said John Moore, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) who also signed the letter.
"So we wanted to put together a set of principles well before the pot actually boils and make sure everyone's aware of the new reality," Moore said in an interview. The group is concerned, he said, that "RTOs are not catching up to the new reality of the transforming grid."
The letter was signed by the American Council on Renewable Energy, American Public Power Association (APPA), American Wind Energy Association, Electricity Consumers Resource Council, Large Public Power Council, National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates, NRECA, NRDC, Solar Energy Industries Association and Transmission Access Policy Study Group.
March 4, 2018
By Aaron Gregg
CSS of Fairfax appointed Joe Craver chief executive.
National Conference Center of Leesburg appointed Terrence Luther senior sales manager.
Quinn Evans Architects of the District appointed Alyson Steele executive vice president and chief design officer.
Sandy Spring Builders of Bethesda appointed Brian Abramson partner.
ASSOCIATIONS AND NONPROFITS
American Diabetes Association of Arlington appointed John Agos chief strategic development officer.
Large Public Power Council of the District appointed Pat Pope president and chief executive.
McCain Institute for International Leadership of the District appointed Rachel Spera program manager for leadership and education.
Mortgage Bankers Association of the District appointed Deborah Dubois president of the MBA Opens Doors Foundation.
Plastics Industry Association of the District appointed Shannon Crawford director of state government affairs.
LAW AND LOBBYING
Barnes & Thornburg of the District appointed Michael Hordell of counsel in the corporate department and federal contracting, procurement and national security practice group.
Cozen O’Connor of the District appointed Lynnette Espy-Williams chief diversity officer.
Greenberg Traurig of the District appointed Cyril Brennan and Emily Naughton shareholders and Theresa Queen of counsel.
Latham & Watkins of the District appointed Jamie Underwood partner and Susan Engel counsel.
Morgan Lewis of the District appointed Philip Miscimarra partner.
Thompson & Coburn of the District appointed Geoffrey Coll and Edward Gray partners.
Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati of the District appointed Joshua Gruenspecht of counsel in the firm’s national security regulatory practice.
February 22, 2018
By Theodoric Meyer and Marianne Levine
— Keosha Varela has joined InterAction as communications director. She was previously a vice president at 270 Strategies.
— Kate Belinski, a lawyer who advises clients on campaign finance, lobbying and other government ethics issues at Nossaman, has been elected equity partner.
— DCI Group had added Kim McIntyre as a national media strategist/booker. She was previously assistant director of broadcast services at The Heritage Foundation.
— The Large Public Power Council has tapped Pat Pope, the president and chief executive of the Nebraska Public Power District, as its next chairman.
Politico Afternoon Energy: NPPD Chairman and CEO Pat Pope Will Join LPPC As New Chairman
NPPD Chairman and CEO Pat Pope Will Join LPPC As New Chairman
February 22, 2018
By Caitlin Oprysko
MOVER, SHAKER: Nebraska Public Power District Chairman and CEO Pat Pope will join the Large Public Power Council as its new chairman. Pope will help oversee the coalition of the 26 largest consumer-owned U.S. utility companies for the next two years, replacing current Chairman Mark Bonsall, LPPC announced.
Public Power Daily: NYPA, SRP Cyber Experts Get Window Into How E-ISAC Handles Data
February 21, 2018
By Jeannine Anderson
Two cyber security experts – one from the East, one from the West – came to Washington, D.C., in late January to spend a week at the headquarters of the Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center, or E-ISAC. The two took part in a new pilot program to help utilities get to know the E-ISAC better and to give the agency feedback on how to better inform the U.S. electricity industry about cyber and physical attacks.
In interviews, these two utility officials – Jeff Staten, senior cyber security analyst with the New York Power Authority, based in White Plains, New York, and Nick Giaimo, principal security analyst with the Salt River Project near Phoenix, Arizona – talked about what the week at E-ISAC was like and discussed some of the initial lessons learned from the pilot project, called the E-ISAC Industry Augmentation Program.
In separate interviews, others involved with the project talked about how the idea for it came about and explained how participation in the program – which is currently limited to members of the Large Public Power Council (LPPC) – could be expanded later this year to include investor-owned utilities, public power utilities, and rural electric cooperatives. The second round of the pilot project is scheduled for late February into early March, and a third round is scheduled for late April into early May.
Intel from utilities is key
The E-ISAC staff “have connections to threat intelligence that folks in the industry don’t have,” and do a good job of analyzing that information, NYPA’s Staten said in a Jan. 29 interview. But it also is very important for the E-ISAC to receive pertinent information from the electric utility industry, he said.
“The more information they get, the better the analysis,” Staten said.
“If you don’t share information, you don’t get analysis,” he said. “If you don’t get analysis, you don’t get the bigger picture.” And utilities who report information to the E-ISAC can take advantage of the agency’s ability to synthesize and analyze data, he noted.
Both NYPA’s Staten and SRP’s Giaimo said that one of the initial lessons learned from the first week of the pilot program is that working alongside the E-ISAC staff, and getting to know the agency’s work processes, helps build trust between the ISAC and the electricity industry.
The E-ISAC is operated by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, which sets mandatory reliability standards for the U.S. electric utility industry. Its offices are at NERC’s headquarters in Washington, but are physically separate from the rest of NERC, and E-ISAC staffers sign a code of conduct preventing them from disclosing any confidential information to others at NERC.
‘Firewall’ separates E-ISAC from rest of NERC
Staten said that, among other things, spending the week at the E-ISAC offices showed him and Giaimo that the ISAC is a separate organization, with a separate budget and office space that is walled off from the rest of NERC and is accessible only to E-ISAC staff.
“We observed a great sensitivity” by E-ISAC staff about “where the firewall is between the E-ISAC and NERC,” said Staten. There is “a clear boundary between E-ISAC and NERC.”
The E-ISAC is very careful about how it handles information that it gets from utilities, he added.
As an example, Staten said, “Say a phishing email is sent to a CEO,” and the utility reports this to the E-ISAC. The agency’s staffers “keep that information anonymous,” he said. “They sanitize it to make sure that the source of the information is not going to be revealed.”
The NYPA official noted that before spending the week with E-ISAC, he was aware of its watch floor and analysis team, but did not know about the full extent of the publications, workshops and other educational materials the E-ISAC produces. Those include daily, weekly and monthly reports, as well as special alerts and bulletins. The E-ISAC also takes part in and facilitates public and private sector participation in GridEx, the major NERC exercise held every other year; and its annual grid security conference, GridSecCon.
E-ISAC wants feedback from utilities
Staten emphasized that those who work at the E-ISAC are very eager to get feedback from the electric industry on what they do and want to know how they can improve.
“They were very solicitous of criticism – everybody was very open,” he said.
Asked for any advice he might give to others in the utility industry who are interested in taking part in the Industry Augmentation Program, Staten said that anyone presented with the opportunity to be in this type of exchange program should take advantage of it.
“Do it,” he said. “You’re going to learn so much.”
The Industry Augmentation Program encourages “better communication between the industry and the E-ISAC,” said the SRP’s Giaimo. The E-ISAC “is trying to look at various ways they can raise awareness of their role and increase engagement with industry,” he said in a Jan. 30 interview.
He and Staten “gave feedback as to which [of the E-ISAC’s] products we were aware of or were not aware of,” Giaimo said.
The face-to-face exchange made possible by the week at the E-ISAC’s headquarters was “extremely beneficial,” he said.
Getting to know E-ISAC – and each other
“Getting to know each other, examining their processes and tools, and giving them a glimpse into our processes” meant that he and Staten came away with a more detailed understanding of what goes on at the E-ISAC, said Giaimo. In turn, the E-ISAC staff gained a better understanding of how grid security operations take place at the utilities where the two industry participants work.
It also was a good opportunity for him and Staten to talk shop, he said.
“Jeff and I had numerous conversations about things going on in our organizations,” Giaimo said. “There is a lot of value in having that kind of community within the industry.”
The agency’s watch floor resembles a security operations center, with monitors on the walls, said the SRP official.
“It was helpful to see what their process looks like – see how they follow up with industry,” he said.
Asked whether he too would recommend the program to others in the electricity industry, he said, “I certainly would.”
These days, Giaimo observed, attackers “are becoming more highly organized, more well-funded.”
“Essentially anyone who has a presence on the Internet is going to be exposed to these types of threats,” he noted. “Then there are people who are interested in our sector specifically.
When asked why people want to attack utility systems, he said such efforts can be motivated by different factors. There could be a financial reason for trying to extract customers’ data, or for gaining access to a utility’s network and then using it in various ways – for example, for cryptocurrency mining. A nation-state may want to obtain sensitive information about utility or grid operations that could be used later. People sometimes hack systems just to see if they can do it, as well, and sometimes there are “crimes of opportunity,” he said.
Whatever the reasons behind the attempted incursions, the E-ISAC helps utilities guard against them by uniting people within the electric utility sector, Giaimo said: “We’re better together.”
‘Trust is the cornerstone’
The Industry Augmentation Program pilot “is something we’ve been wanting to do for quite some time,” said Steve Herrin, the E-ISAC’s director of operations. It is “vital to get face-to-face feedback from the industry on how the E-ISAC operates,” he said in a Feb. 2 interview.
Asked about the preliminary lessons learned, and the role of trust in the relationship between the E-ISAC and utilities, Herrin said, “Trust is the cornerstone of the information-sharing concept.”
Without trust, he added, “no one wants to share anything.”
When someone from a utility shares its information with the E-ISAC, the E-ISAC is extremely careful what it does with that information, he said.
“We handle the information based on how the participants want us to,” Herrin said. The sharing of information is limited using a system of traffic light protocols, or TLP – a color code for the information. The utility – or whoever is sharing something with the E-ISAC – decides what TLP rating will apply to the information.
In the first week of the Industry Augmentation Program, the participants from NYPA and SRP “were really able to grasp how much the E-ISAC is a trusted source for quality analysis,” and for the rapid sharing of possible threat information, he said.
The E-ISAC “is very interested in getting feedback, to make their processes work better,” said Michael Fish, a Salt River Project official and a member of the Industry Augmentation Program Working Group, in a Feb. 1 interview. The working group is part of the LPPC’s Cyber Security Task Force, which helped create the IAP pilot program.
Fish, who is senior director of Enterprise Cyber Security at SRP, said the first week of the pilot project, held at E-ISAC’s offices Jan. 22-26, went very well.
“I think it was very successful,” Fish said. Some refinements may be made to the program in the coming weeks and months, he said, but so far, so good.
“I think we’re off and running,” he said.
The second round of the pilot project will take place the week of Feb. 25, with LPPC participants from the Nebraska Public Power District and the New York Power Authority. The third and last round of the pilot program is scheduled for the week of April 29, with LPPC participants from the Sacramento Municipal Utility District in California and JEA in Jacksonville, Florida.
E-ISAC had the idea; LPPC made it happen
The goal of the pilot program is “to provide the industry participants with a first-hand appreciation of the E-ISAC’s work processes and practices,” including its relationships with government agencies and other ISACs that have been created to protect critical infrastructure, notes the draft E-ISAC Industry Augmentation Program Manual for Pilot with the Large Public Power Council. Another objective of the pilot is “ultimately making the program available to the entire industry,” says the draft manual, which is being updated based on feedback from the pilot program.
The idea is for the electric utility industry to collaborate more with the E-ISAC and others “to raise our collective cyber security posture,” said Randy Crissman, senior consultant-utility operations with the New York Power Authority, who helped organize the pilot program on behalf of the LPPC and the E-ISAC.
Crissman said the idea for the pilot program came a couple of years ago, when he attended a presentation made by Marcus Sachs, the former NERC chief security officer who left the organization in November. Sachs mentioned the idea of a program that would bring utility people to the E-ISAC’s watch floor. The watch floor handles incoming information from utilities and others about possible incursions or other threats.
The idea was that the utility people, if they came to the E-ISAC, could help provide feedback on how well E-ISAC processes and products – such as bulletins, alerts and daily reports – were working from the point of view of the industry participants. At the same time, the E-ISAC could learn first-hand from the industry participants details about how their utilities’ cybersecurity programs are put together.
When the LPPC’s Cyber Security Task Force became aware of the E-ISAC’s desire for a pilot program that would make such an exchange possible, the task force began pursuing such a program, and formed the Industry Augmentation Program Working Group to work through the details.
Crissman did much of the ground work, setting up conference calls with LPPC and E-ISAC officials.
The objective was to help the E-ISAC pilot the program “and work out the kinks,” Crissman said in a Jan. 31 interview. The LPPC would help to create an experimental program at the E-ISAC which, if successful, would become a permanent, self-sustaining program that then would be opened up to the rest of the electricity industry.
Electricity is ‘built into everything’
Electricity “has made its way into the U.S. culture, and is as important as food or water,” said Kenneth Carnes, the New York Power Authority’s vice president and chief information security officer, in a Jan. 31 interview. Electric power is now essential and is “built into everything,” he said.
Carnes, who is a member of the LPPC’s Cyber Security Task Force, was in Washington, D.C. to help launch the program the week of Jan. 22.
He called the Industry Augmentation Program “a big win for both sides of the table” – the utility people who take part, and the E-ISAC staff – and added that the E-ISAC has been very supportive of it.
“I’m hoping we can continue” the program once the pilot stage is over, and possibly “use this as a model for any other ISACs” who might be interested, Carnes said.
He said the pilot program is a credit to the public power sector, which “has a strong history of collaboration.”
Pilot program dovetails with strategic plan
The Industry Augmentation Program “is one of the tools in our toolbox that we’ve been very thankful for, with Randy Crissman’s leadership,” said Bill Lawrence, director of the E-ISAC. The pilot program also fits well with the E-ISAC’s five-year strategic plan, which focuses on continuously improving information sharing, analysis, and engagement, he said, adding that the E-ISAC is currently recruiting for several new job openings, including more cyber and physical security analysts, and a director of engagement.
The industry has a vested interest in the E-ISAC and wants it to be a world class organization. SRP’s Fish is also the public power representative on the E-ISAC member executive committee that provides strategic leadership and direction to help guide the future of the E-ISAC.
For the industry participants coming to Washington, the new program “beefs up trust in the area of information sharing,” he said. “We show them how we go through the information-sharing process.”
The information is shared using the traffic light protocol, or TLP. If a utility tells the E-ISAC something, the utility can designate that information as TLP red, amber, green or white. If it’s TLP red, it must be tightly restricted – not shared even among E-ISAC officials.
If the information is designated as TLP amber, it can’t go outside the E-ISAC’s walls. If it’s TLP green, the E-ISAC can share the information with others who it believes have a reason to have this information. TLP white means the information is public.
The E-ISAC takes this system “extremely seriously,” said Lawrence, adding that the E-ISAC works hard to build trust with information providers while protecting their identities. The E-ISAC, he noted, also readily accepts information that is shared anonymously.
Industry ‘has done a good job of defending itself’
Despite the proliferation of potential threats, “we are not one click away from the whole grid going dark,” Lawrence said.
“Once you start looking at taking down a major utility, then the next one,” and then the one after that, “it rapidly becomes a very challenging problem,” he explained, adding that this is due, in part, to the reliability standards set by NERC.
Asked about the possibility of an electromagnetic pulse attack (EMP), he noted that the Department of Defense is capable of doing something about such a scenario, and said several utilities are stockpiling large transformers in EMP-shielded facilities.
“We consider all threats,’ he said. “As scary as it looks out there, I think the industry has done a very good job of defending itself.”
Asked about the issue of trust, he said, “I’ve seen a shift in the willingness to trust us.”
Lawrence pointed out that the E-ISAC, though housed at NERC’s headquarters, is physically separate from the rest of NERC.
“We also have a code of conduct that prevents us from sharing any of our analysis,’ he said. No identifying information about a utility can be shared with anyone doing work on enforcement of NERC’s reliability standards. The text of the code of conduct can be found at www.nerc.com.
A new portal, a growing staff
Lawrence pointed out that the E-ISAC introduced a new, upgraded portal in December, and said, “we’re trying to build up stakeholder use of the portal.” He also noted that the E-ISAC staff is expanding: it stands at 25 now and is set to grow to 52 in the next five years.
The portal is a secured site that is open to owners and operators of electric utility assets in the U.S., Canada and parts of Mexico. Although the E-ISAC is part of NERC, all utilities can sign up for notifications from E-ISAC – they do not have to be registered with NERC.
Those in the electric industry who have not yet signed up for an account via the E-ISAC portal can do so by going to the E-ISAC’s website or by sending an email to email@example.com. Current users of the portal, as well as those who would like to join, are encouraged to provide feedback and/or seek technical support by contacting the E-ISAC at firstname.lastname@example.org or (404) 446-9780.
The American Public Power Association has encouraged its member utilities to sign up for the E-ISAC's portal to get alerts and resources to monitor and manage cyber threats.
Daily Energy Insider: NERC Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center Launches New Industry Engagement Program
February 9, 2018
By Kevin Randolph
The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center (E-ISAC) recently launched a new program to increase engagement within the industry and enhance the exchange of information on potential threats to the bulk power system.
The new initiative, called the Industry Augmentation Program, aims to increase awareness of E-ISAC cyber and physical security analysis processes, increase the amount of feedback E-ISAC receives on tools and communications protocols, and strengthen utility programs and staff expertise.
“Face-to-face collaboration by the E-ISAC and the industry on how they view and manage risks to grid security is a great opportunity for all participants,” Bill Lawrence, director of the E-ISAC, said. “The Industry Augmentation Program is designed to enhance member relationships that are vital to ensuring the trust needed to foster a successful approach to grid security across North America.”
NERC a pilot phase of the program under an ongoing partnership with the Large Public Power Council and its member utilities. The program’s first participants were cybersecurity experts from the New York Power Authority (NYPA) and Salt River Project (SRP) in January. During a weeklong exchange, the E-ISAC, NYPA, and SRP shared how each organization collects, analyzes and shares information for possible threat vectors.
The E-ISAC plans to complete the pilot phase of the program by early May and then open the program to all members.
February 7, 2018
By Blake Sobczak
A 20-year-old grid security program is getting a makeover to put murky cyberthreats into focus.
For it to succeed, the Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center (E-ISAC) is counting on the trust — and data — of power utilities at the front lines of the grid's cyberdefense.
The goal is to become "a necessary piece of any electric industry security program, both in cyber and physical," said Bill Lawrence, senior director of the E-ISAC at the North American Electric Reliability Corp., an industry-led group that manages electric reliability for the bulk power system in North America.
Kenneth Carnes, vice president and chief information security officer at the New York Power Authority (NYPA), said he's on board and expects an "open dialogue" with the new center.
"The best way for us to be prepared is not looking just within our scope of view with our blinders on; it's looking at what's happening in the threat space as a whole," he said.
The new pilot project with the U.S. public power industry is partly aimed at quelling those fears.
"I personally don't have any trust issues," said Michael Fish, senior director for enterprise cybersecurity at the Salt River Project, one of Arizona's biggest utilities. "But I would say that one of the benefits of having this program is to understand how the E-ISAC was actually set up. The more that people understand the separation [with NERC enforcement], I think they'll be more comfortable with information sharing."