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ET, phone home: Energy Telecoms

UTC-large-052014This is not about Steven Spielberg’s 1982 blockbuster that told a tale about an abandoned alien who is befriended by humans. At the time, it surpassed “Star Wars” as the highest grossing film of all time. So it was a pretty good flick.

This is actually a retrospective on UTC Telecom 2014, which recently wrapped up in Phoenix (if it makes you feel better, go ahead and look at “ET” as “energy telecoms”). Communications has not been my career focus. Yet, I was impressed by the passion and excitement shared by these industry professionals at their national conference. They sort of reminded me of civil engineers at a utility structural conference, only different.

I was exposed to an alphabet soup of new (to me) acronyms and terms: LTE, WAN, FAN, NAN, NIST, IP, TDM, IT/OT, SONET, FirstNET, M2M, DA, AMI. My head hurts just a little thinking about it. But that’s okay, because those that really need to understand all the details of these technologies were in attendance and loving it.

We hear a lot today about intelligent critical infrastructure. Critical infrastructure is what we have the privilege to work on – roads, substations, water and wastewater treatment, transmission, distribution and more. The “intelligent” part of this involves a whole array of communications and controls. In today’s world, efficient, reliable and robust communications systems are imperative for our infrastructure systems to operate and serve our communities.

One of the technical sessions I attended provided some interesting, yet sobering information on cybersecurity and how it impacts our industry. The panel topic was, Current Risk and Threat Environment: How Bad Is It and What Do You Need to Know? The following are some salient facts:

  • Cyberattacks are up 782% since 2006 (the threat is real and increasing)
  • The energy sector is the key target for terrorists and rogue states; we are in the cross-hairs
  • The bad guys have more resources and better tools for their attacks
  • The International Space Station was infected with malware
  • Each of us needs to be a cybersecurity professional
  • Social media is a wonderful resource of intelligence that can be used against us as both companies and individuals
  • The internet of things provides entry points – wi-fi enabled appliances, home routers, televisions, toasters, etc. (Target was invaded via an HVAC system)
  • Vulnerabilities are increasing
  • Exploits are increasingly powerful
  • Attacks are more sophisticated

The world of cybersecurity and how it relates to the electric utility industry is fascinating. The current threats to security certainly present challenges, but also opportunities for our industry to continue to provide solutions that enable dependable, reliable electric service to the nation.

About the author

Marlon is our account executive in the Power market. He has more than 35 years of experience with all aspects of planning, design and construction of 12.5 kV-345 kV distribution and transmission systems, including right-of-way, design, regulatory coordination, public information meetings, public testimony and project management. With an extensive background in power transmission and distribution, Marlon brings a wide variety of knowledge in discussing the energy industry and the issues it faces. From education of future engineers to critical infrastructure analysis, he offers a unique perspective on the industry and where it's headed.