May 6, 2022 - Business

Why it's so hard to protect the Texas power grid

A power station in Texas
Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Russian hackers have been searching for ways to disrupt Texas' energy operations, including oil and gas processing centers and the infrastructure of the Texas power grid, according to cybersecurity experts charged with protecting the industry.

Driving the news: Texas energy companies say they've been aware of the increased risk of Russian cyber threats since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

  • "We are on super high alert," Thad Hill, CEO of Texas power giant Calpine, recently told the Texas Tribune.

Why it matters: "Texas is home to a big population with a very wide geographic spread of energy generation as well as thousands of miles of transmission and distribution lines, which requires a great deal of effort to secure," Andrew Dillon, a Dallas-based Innovation Fellow with the digital consulting firm West Monroe Energy & Utilities, tells Axios.

The big picture: Texas regulators and security experts are working to stop hackers from breaching the state’s power grid system — which could shut off electricity to millions of Texans — while also trying to protect seaports that transport oil and gas around the world, Dillon says.

Zoom out: The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) recently warned that "evolving intelligence indicates that the Russian government is exploring options for potential cyberattacks."

Flashback: Last year, a ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline — which originates in Houston — led to price spikes and fuel shortages along the East Coast.

What's happening: Hackers are continuously looking for vulnerabilities, and in many cases the hackers replicate themselves as automated bots that circulate around the “digital perimeter” of a utility to find open doors to enter and inflict damage, Dillon says.

Between the lines: The Port of Corpus Christi has become one of the nation’s largest exporters of natural gas, which is more pivotal now, as many European countries that have relied on Russian natural gas turn to the U.S.

What they're saying: "It's a community effort to battle this growing new threat to our society," Dillon says.

  • "Like any protection plan, it starts from the ground up, with procedures and governance, to ensure there aren't gaps in awareness at any organization."
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