A cyber attack on the energy sector could be devastating and would be felt at homes, schools, businesses and government as our reliance on technology continues to grow. That’s why the time is now for the private sector and government to come together to prepare and respond to these threats.

That was the message presented to local cyber security leaders at the Fusion Executive Summit held Nov. 9 at the Fluno Center in Madison, Wis. Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin adjutant general and Wisconsin’s Homeland Security advisor, joined Wisconsin Chief Information Officer David Cagigal and Gary Wolter, CEO of Madison Gas & Electric, on a panel discussion about how private and public sectors can collaborate on threats and responses to a cyber event.

“We don’t realize how tied we are to cyber,” Dunbar said. “A cyber attack on the electric grid could cause communities to be without power for days, weeks or months. We have to plan because the stakes are too high.”

sm151109-O-WEMLG-026.jpgThe U.S. Department of Homeland Security has identified 16 critical infrastructure sectors with vital assets or systems, including public health, transportation and water systems. However, experts say the most critical is the energy sector.

“We are the infrastructure that other infrastructures rely on,” Wolter said. “When the grid goes down, the water system pumps won’t work. The cell phone and other communication devices won’t work either without electricity to charge it.”

Wisconsin has taken a proactive approach in working with businesses to protect the energy sector. The state is in the process of finalizing the Cyber Disruption Response Strategy, which is being developed with input from utility companies.

“We have developed partnerships with the private sector,” Cagigal said. “We need to prepare, we need to defend against a cyber threat and we need to do this together.”

In addition to the Cyber Disruption Plan and the Cyber Annex, part of the Wisconsin Emergency Response Plan, the state is in the process of developing and training cyber response teams. Currently, the state has teams in the Milwaukee, Madison and Wausau areas made up of state, local, tribal and territorial professionals. In addition, the Wisconsin National Guard has also developed a similar team. All four teams have been training and exercising together, and could assist in a response to a cyber emergency facing the energy sector.

At the Fusion Executive Summit, both Dunbar and Cagigal encouraged businesses to adopt the cyber hygiene campaign with their employees. The campaign, which is aimed not only at business and government but also individuals and families, is to provide steps to help minimize or prevent a cyber threat. The cyber hygiene campaign encourages people and organizations to count, or know how many devices are on the network; configure, by implementing security settings and control who has user and administrative privileges; patch regularly to make sure all security updates are made; and finally, repeat all steps frequently.

“You need to know the assets you have,” Cagigal said. “You cannot spend your way to cyber security. I don’t care how many firewalls you have — it takes a cyber hygiene campaign to help reduce the human error of clicking on the wrong link and exposing your systems to hackers.”