AUSTIN (Nexstar) — As tensions over the Russia-Ukraine conflict continue to intensify, the FBI is warning U.S. infrastructure could be the target of Russian cyberattacks.
That could include risks for the Texas energy sector.
“We are an energy exporting state, so any disruption in our ability to move products or energy could impact our economy,” Joshua Rhodes, an energy expert with the University of Texas-Austin, said Monday.
In May last year, Houston-based Colonial Pipeline, which delivers about 45% of the fuel used along the Eastern Seaboard, shut down for days after a ransomware attack by Russian hackers.
“That basically stopped its ability to move petroleum products from the Gulf region up to the Northeast,” Rhodes explained.
“That was a major artery of gasoline for that region. And so they had shortages in that area, it didn’t affect us as much because we were on this side of the hack. But it did affect our ability to move our energy from here to there,” Rhodes said.
Beyond supply, though, Texas faces another major risk: our state’s power grid.
“Because it did go down, and it has had troubles in the past, it could have a big target painted on it,” Rhodes said, referring to the February 2021 freeze that paralyzed our power grid.
Texas operates its own grid, separate from the two other national interconnections, which has its pros and cons in a situation like this.
“We’re smaller than the other grids. And so if you wanted to take down a big part of the US, like, maybe we’re not on the top of that list. If one of those other regions is taken down, because we’re not connected, then some of their problems might not become ours. On the other hand, if we are the one that gets attacked, we’re not again, connected to those other grids. And so we can’t get help for getting back on our feet,” Rhodes said.
The Public Utility Commission, which oversees ERCOT, said in a statement Monday that it takes cybersecurity issues extremely seriously, adding, “[it’s] constantly assessing possible threats and working with the appropriate agencies and authorities to best ensure the integrity of our systems. Because of the very sensitive nature of our security, we do not discuss those measures publicly.”
ERCOT also provided a statement:
“ERCOT maintains a high degree of awareness and an aggressive defense for possible cyberattacks. ERCOT is in close contact with local, state, and federal officials and industry partners. We cannot discuss specifics for security reasons,” a spokesperson told Nexstar Monday.
The Texas Division of Emergency Management also replied to Nexstar’s request for comment, stating in part, “TDEM works diligently with key partners to ensure our technological systems are up to date with the latest security measures. TDEM strives for the best protections, security awareness and monitoring,” spokesperson Wes Rapaport said Monday.