From the tiniest electric cooperatives to the huge investor-owned utilities, Tim Lindahl believes that when it comes to cybersecurity, they have at least one thing in common.
"We're all in this together. Whether we're big or whether we're small, we have relatively the same risks. And one of the concerns I see in the utility industry is if one of us goofs up, we're all going to pay for it," said Lindahl, CEO of
Wheat Belt Public Power District in Sidney, Nebraska.
That's why he wants to get "the entire industry engaged, and in particular the small utilities, to make sure they're aware of the risks not only to their organization but to the industry as a whole."
Lindahl knows firsthand about small utilities. Wheat Belt has just over 5,000 accounts, and many of its neighboring PPDs are of a similar size. But he also knows that's no excuse for throwing your hands up over cybersecurity.
"We've banded together with other utilities. In a recent case we got together with five of our neighbors and did cybersecurity self-assessments. We had a facilitated discussion on how do we identify, how do we protect," Lindahl told this month's Smart Electric Power Association's Grid Evolution Summit in Washington.
This also allows the PPDs to share expertise.
"I've got high-quality talent in certain areas. My neighbors have high-quality talent in other areas. And using that combination of allowing them to lean on each other is, I think, going to allow us to at least keep pace with the risk."
Lindahl noted that Wheat Belt, like its fellow PPDs and cooperatives, has "an honest desire to protect the economy of our area."
"We tend to be the one that's maybe one step ahead of the rest of our business community. So we're trying to leverage that. Are there basic concepts in cybersecurity that we can share what we've learned and what we do?"
The hope is to avoid a repeat of a recent incident in which a Wheat Belt commercial customer was hit with a ransomware attack. While Wheat Belt learned a lot from the incident—and made some changes—the customer was shut down for a month. It wasn't buying power, and it was left on the verge of bankruptcy.
"Every customer is integral to the success of our organization," said Lindahl. "Losing one of them is a big deal."