Energy and finance sectors are primary targets for cyber attacks

The energy and financial sectors are prime targets for cyber terrorism, former leaders of the U.S. Cyber Command and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) told a Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) conference May 14 in Washington, D.C.

Retired Army General Keith Alexander, the former commander of the U.S. Cyber Command and former director of the National Security Agency (NSA), along with former FBI Director Robert Mueller III addressed cyber-security during the final day of NEI’s Nuclear Energy Assembly.

“We’ve got a problem” if energy goes down, Alexander said, because it affects everything else.

Alexander and Mueller fielded questions from Southern (NYSE:SO) CEO Thomas Fanning, who chairs the Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council (ESCC), a group of executives that works with federal intelligence and energy agencies to protect against, prepare for, and respond to threats to the nation’s power grid.

American industries and government are facing a wide array of potential cyber attackers these days, the security officials said. Threats are posed from parties ranging from teenager dabblers to techie hackers seeking to embarrass institutions  to organized crime, nation states and terror groups, the two officials said.

To “trump all of that is the insider threat,” Mueller said. The government defense and intelligence communities use all sorts of behavioral tests and pattern analysis to minimize the threat of insider sabotage, Alexander said.

The two said today’s cyber threats are constantly changing and difficult to defend against. “You don’t know who is sitting behind the keyboard,” Mueller said.

Alexander said that better processes and coordination are need both between government agencies as well as between the government and private industry. The U.S. government ought to do a better job of working with domestic industries to protect intellectual property, Alexander said.

“We ought to protect our intellectual property better. We don’t,” Alexander said.

On June 23, 2009, the Secretary of Defense directed the Commander of U.S. Strategic Command to establish a sub-unified command, United States Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM). Full Operational Capability (FOC) was achieved Oct. 31, 2010. The command is located at Fort Meade, Md.

Alexander noted the birth of the Cyber Command during his remarks. As for the FBI, “we did not play well with the CIA prior to Sept. 11,” Mueller said of the 2001 terror attacks.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.