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Keeping Michigan’s electric grid safe from hackers is a constant battle

As cyber attacks continue to mount, energy providers share information with each other and the government to preserve the grid.

The Great Northeast Blackout of 2003 left parts of eight states and a chunk of Ontario — 55 million people — without power. As it turned out, the blackout was triggered by a tree touching a high-voltage power line in Ohio. But those who lost power for those several days remember how life ground to a halt.

Now, imagine a monster blackout caused by a cyber-attack.

The security firm Symantec recently revealed a hacker group it calls Dragonfly 2.0 is behind a campaign of cyber attacks on energy companies in the U.S. and Canada, to the point where the attackers were able to get their hands on power grid operations.

Knocks on the door happen at “a constant barrage,” but more infrequent, yet more serious, are the actual entries inside an environment, said Jim Beechey, executive director of cyber-security for Consumers Energy. “Cyber attackers are going to get into your environment, but if you can deal with that issue quickly and stop them,” you would have a more secure electric grid.

Energy providers invest quite a bit in security nowadays, with full staffs that work solely to monitor attacks.

Most crucial for energy providers is coordination between competitors. “It’s one of the beautiful things about our industry: we share information regularly,” said Beechey. That way, providers like Consumers Energy, where Beechey works, and DTE can alert one another — and the federal government — to potential threats to the grid.

Listen above for the full conversation with Consumers Energy’s Jim Beechey.

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