IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Cybersecurity Is a Priority for Local Texas Utilities

As a result of increases in the number of breach attempts against utilities, many have invested in new technologies aimed at improving systems’ protection and monitoring capacities.

(TNS) — In a world that has become reliant on technology for daily life, security extends beyond a lock and key. For corporations, governments and individual in the 21st century, it includes the protection of information and electronic systems. On Thursday evening, NBC News released a map reportedly from the National Security Agency showing successful cyberattacks on U.S. targets over a five-year period. The map, which was included as a part of an NSA presentation in February 2014, a source told NBC, has more than 600 dots, each representing an attack.

The map isn’t detailed enough to show specific target, but many targets were located in Silicon Valley and along the East Coast. There were also several attacks in Texoma, according to the NSA map.

Local businesses and potential targets who would comment on the matter said they take cybersecurity seriously.

“As a result of increases in the number of attempts in our industry, we have invested in new technologies aimed at improving our systems’ protection and monitoring capacities,” Janet Rummel, public relations manager for North Texas Municipal Water District, said. The district operates a pumping station in Lake Texoma that provides municipal water to Sherman, larger parts of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and several of the cities along U.S. Highway 75.

Rummel said industrial controls networks, including those that manage the operation of the water pumping station at Lake Texoma, are isolated from outside systems including the Internet. This is used to prevent security breaches including viruses and denial of service attacks, where a hacker interrupts service of a network, denying users access.

“For our business operations, we use firewalls and intrusion prevention systems to minimize the number of attacks,” Rummel said. “Additionally, we perform frequent data backups, as well as off-site data storage to give us the ability to minimize the impact and restore services in the event our protections did not immediately block a threat.”

The Greater Texoma Utility Authority partners with NTMWD for the pumping station, and GTUA General Manger Drew Satterwhite said in the event that water service from the pumping station is interrupted, municipalities, including Sherman, should have enough water storage to continue to serve customers for several hours.

“You could shut off communications from the outside and just go and turn on a pump manually,” he said.

Another local business that represents a prime target for a cyberattack is the Panda Power Plant in Sherman. Panda Energy Operations Director Steve McLain said cybersecurity was a major focus when designing all of its power plants, including the Sherman facility, which opened last year. The system in place at the plant is regularly maintained and updated to ensure that the power grid is secure, McLain said.

“Our control systems within the plant are protected by an electronic security parameter that has been established by the manufacturer of the controls, Siemens,” McLain said.

Bill Pentak, Panda’s vice president of investor relations and public affairs, said the plant in Sherman facility is state of the art, representing the most recent and advanced measures in information and cybersecurity.

“We’ve been redoubling our efforts every time we build a new plant just to make sure it is cyber-secured,” McLain said.

©2015 the Herald Democrat (Sherman, Texas), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.