Local utility companies employing strategies to prevent ransomware attacks

Updated: Jun. 5, 2021 at 10:20 AM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - With multiple high-profile computer-based extortion schemes taking place over the last several weeks, local utility companies are taking steps to stop them from being the latest victim.

Ransomware is what cybercriminals use to hold a company or government’s data hostage until that entity pays a ransom. JBS, the world’s largest meat processor, and Colonial Pipeline both dealt with attacks the past month. The FBI said Russian-based groups are likely behind the attacks.

The Linn County Rural Electric Cooperative is adding new technology to stop those ransomware attacks, which will shut down a computer system if such an intrusion is detected. Don Watson, who is an IT Manager at Linn County REC, said he keeps a close eye on the electrical grid at the company. But, he said cybersecurity is always working in reaction to newly-created viruses and attacks.

“We’re always behind the hackers,” Watson said. ”But that’s why the strong perimeter is so important, you keep them out as long as possible to give them time to make those patches available.”

Linn County REC already has a number of cybersecurity measures to protect the grid. It scans downloads for viruses and malware. It also disconnects their servers from each other, which stops potential hackers from going from server to server. Linn County REC also updates its systems constantly to stay up to date with any patches.

Dan Resler, who is a senior manager for security and risk at Alliant Energy, said in a statement it works closely with public and private partners to stop cyber attacks.

“Alliant Energy takes seriously any threat that could affect our ability to serve our customers safely, efficiently and responsibly,” Resler said, in the statement. “No matter the threat, from a solar flare to a derecho or a cyber attack, we plan, prepare and take steps to enhance the resilience of the energy grid and prepare to accelerate recovery from any potential incident that could possibly impact our facilities, our people, systems or equipment.”

Geoff Greenwood, who is a spokesperson for MidAmerican Energy, said the recent attacks reinforce energy companies are potential targets for cybercriminals. He said in an emailed statement that the company has measures to protect the company while keeping customers and employees safe and secure.

“MidAmerican maintains industry best practices, leveraging internationally recognized cybersecurity standards across all aspects of our business,” Greenwood said, in the statement. “Additionally, we collaborate with our government partners and the energy industry to prepare for and respond to any cyber threat. Protecting our nation’s electric and natural gas grids and ensuring safe, reliable and affordable energy supplies are our top priorities.”

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