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Grid security questioned after Russian sanctions

March 16 (UPI) — After the U.S. Treasury Department slapped Russian entities with sanctions for cyberattacks, an industry poll found confidence in grid security is absent.

The U.S. Treasury Department revealed Thursday that Russian government actors targetted “multiple U.S. critical infrastructure sectors, including the energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors” with cyberattacks at least since March 2016.

Attendees at an annual Security and Energy conference held in Abu Dhabiin November said cybersecuritty was a major problem for the energy sector. Data from the organizers of the conference said there were nearly 100 cyberattacks reported over the last year by oil and natural gas company leaders and the industry’s certification body, DNV GL, estimates cybercrimes costs the energy and utilities sector about $ 12.8 million each year in lost business and equipment damage.

The oil and gas industry accounted for 25 percent of the attacks from cybercriminals, putting the sector more or less on par with the financial sector.

A poll commissioned by Protect Our Power, a U.S. non-profit monitoring the electric grid, found more than 60 percent of the 1,239 people surveyed said they felt the grid was vulnerable to cyberattacks.

“The public understands the need for coordination across agencies and entities, and our poll shows that the public expects the government to be a leader in getting the affected parties on the same page and urgently taking concrete steps to secure the grid now,” Suedeen Kelly, Protect Our Power’s regulatory counsel, said in an emailed statement.

Cyberattacks are on the rise, with U.S. and British government agencies among the more recent targets. The Treasury Department added that Russian agents were tied to “interference in the 2016 U.S. election.”

A ransomware cyberattack from the so-called Petya or NotPetya bug targeted thousands of government and private corporate servers across the globe last year. The attack demanded a $ 300 ransom paid in Bitcoin to release the encryption imposed by the virus that prevents users from accessing their devices.

The Treasury Department said the NotPetya attack was attributed to the Russian military. In June, Russian oil company Rosneft said its servers too were the target of a “powerful hacker.”

The U.S. government under President Donald Trump has focused on grid reliability. Energy Secretary Rick Perryin April called for an investigation into the resilience and reliability of the nation’s energy grid. With renewable resources like solar and wind deemed variable because of the nature of their power origins, the secretary said the issue was a critical one given regulatory burdens enacted by previous administrations that could impact legacy resources like coal-fired power generation.

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