Perry's visit to San Antonio puts spotlight on cybersecurity in energy

October 23, 2018
In The News

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry's recent visit to San Antonio to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Eagle Ford Shale discovery also put a spotlight on cybersecurity in the energy sector.

Perry, who was the featured speaker at the Business Journal's Eagle Ford celebration on Oct. 19, delivered the keynote address at the 2018 South Texas Energy Cybersecurity Forum hosted by the University of Texas at San Antonio. Perry said cyberattacks on the energy sector are at pre-9/11 levels, with hostile foreign governments and terrorist groups among those committing acts of industrial espionage or in some cases, sabotage.

Hackers linked to the Russian government have used malware, phishing and other techniques to gain access to industrial control systems in the U.S. energy sector, according to a joint technical alert issued in March by the Department of Homeland Security and FBI. Russian hackers also used cyberattacks to knock out the power grid in Ukraine in late 2015.

"Being able to shut down a control system in the energy sector or being able to shut down the electrical grid can be devastating to this country," Perry said.

As the agency tasked with protecting the nation's electrical grid, the U.S. Department of Energy set up a new division known as Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response, or CESER.

While that work continues at the federal level, UTSA, CPS Energy and others in San Antonio are working to position the Alamo City as a testing ground for cybersecurity preparedness in the energy sector.

City-owned utility company CPS Energy is using various technologies to protect its power-generation and delivery assets, while UTSA plans to build a National Security Collaboration Center and a new School of Data Science.

“UTSA is well-positioned to serve as a coordinating force that brings together the public and private sectors and leverages partnerships with the three Department of Energy national labs involved in cybersecurity to revolutionize the way the nation protects its critical energy infrastructure,” UTSA President Taylor Eighmy said in a statement. “By leveraging CPS Energy’s leadership and the partnerships we have built through our National Security Collaboration Center and School of Data Science, San Antonio could become a test bed for cyber resiliency strategies, serving as a model in the state of Texas.”

Earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, warned members of the oil and natural gas industry about threats from Russian hackers. The congressman reiterated that same warning at the UTSA event, where he said they are not defenseless.

“There is no better place to advance the security of the American energy industry than San Antonio, the crossroads of an emerging cybersecurity hub with the South Texas shale boom," Hurd said.