The United States has become vulnerable to online attacks as a result of increased dependence on digital communication, and currently faces the challenge of protecting its energy resources from cyber crime. According to an Ernst and Young study entitled, “Business Pulse: Oil and Gas,” network security and cybersecurity rank ninth on the most important concerns for energy executives. The report described three primary forms of Internet security threats: intellectual property theft, commercial espionage and operational espionage.

“Oil and gas facilities are crucial to a country’s national infrastructure and, as such, are likely to be among the primary targets for cyber attacks,” the report stated. The digital nature of companies’ sophisticated control systems increases the potential for cyber crime. Attacks could result in damage to facilities, the electric grid and, potentially, human lives. Fortunately, the government is taking steps to avoid these types of occurrences.

The Energy and Commerce Committee, along with its Communications and Technology Subcommittee, recently met to discuss how to best protect America's critical infrastructure, and consequently its energy resources, in the face of changing technology.

“Cyber attacks have grown in scope and sophistication to include nearly every industry and asset that makes America work,” said Energy and Commerce Committee Vice Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) in an article by the Energy and Commerce Committee. “That is why this committee is well-positioned to lead, oversee, and review policies and solutions to these wide-ranging and evolving threats.”

The committee meeting focused on actions being taken by the federal government and the private sector to boost security and decrease the risk for cyber attacks. Actions include the implementation of the President’s executive order to improve critical infrastructure cybersecurity, public-private partnerships and improved industry collaboration.

Over time, the committee will develop multiple strategies for protecting America’s energy resources. There is no single solution to protect the system, said Dave McCurdy, president of the American Gas Association and former chairman of the House Intelligence. McCurdy explained that multiple cybersecurity strategies and information-sharing between the government and industry experts will protect America’s natural gas system.

Also assisting with America’s resource protection is The Electric Grid Cyber Security Initiative. This group aims to create proposals that will clarify current regulations and standards to help the electric grid protect against online threats.

Initiative members include former CIA and National Security Agency director Michael Hayden, former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman Curt Hebert, and Susan Tierney, the former assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Energy. These co-chairs will work with an advisory group consisting of industry experts, former government officials, and other cybersecurity specialists.

The group was launched to ensure America’s cybersecurity policies are ahead of targeted threats, said Hayden in a statement. Members intend to consider appropriate roles for state and government members to help maintain grid security, and will also look at industry-led efforts to resolve problems with cybersecurity. The group will also plan quick and coordinated responses for the government and the industry in the event of an attack.

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