It used to be that smaller meant safer. Residents of a one-stoplight town could leave doors unlocked with the security of knowing that crime is a problem relegated to larger urban areas.
Then came meth, with tentacles that extended to the most remote areas. Geographic immunity to crime became as quaint as a jug of milk delivered on your doorstep.
So it comes as no surprise that a new type of wrongdoing, that which breaks through digital firewalls instead of dead-bolt locks, also knows no limits.
Earlier this year, reports emerged that more than a dozen U.S. electricity providers were targeted in an attempted cyberattack that originated overseas. The U.S. electric grid and gas pipeline network face a growing risk of cyberattack, with one attempt in 2017 that the United States blamed on the Russian government.
This year’s attempt, vaguely linked to a server in Hong Kong, involved “phishing” emails. Hackers use this trickery to get malware installed on the computers at electric utility companies.
What’s interesting is that The Wall Street Journal identified many of the targets as smaller utilities in rural areas, including the Upper Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Ominously, these companies provide power to critical infrastructure like dams or iron ore transportation networks. None of the targets were believed to be in Kansas or Missouri.
The Department of Homeland Security reports that America’s water and energy utilities face constant cyber-espionage and denial-of-service attacks. Most are unsuccessful, which is good news, but it only takes one breach to cause chaos in an interconnected world.
In Northwest Missouri, we can take solace in the knowledge that regulators and utility companies recognize the risk and seek to make cybersecurity a priority. Perhaps St. Joseph gains an added layer of protection in the recent name change for the electric provider in these parts.
What was once plainly labeled as St. Joseph Light & Power became UtiliCorp United, then Aquila and finally Kansas City Power & Light.
This year, the utility changed its name to Evergy. It’s one of those trendy monikers that plays well with consultants, but those who receive a bill every month might find it somewhat befuddling.
What is Evergy? This enduring company seems to have been rebranded in a way that makes it difficult to know if it provides electricity, energy drinks or Christmas trees. In another bit of good news, perhaps the hacker inside some Russian basement will be equally confused, in effect passing over St. Joseph’s electric utility in favor of a more clearly identified target.
Whatever works. It’s a dangerous world out there.