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Cyber attackers pose serious threat to utilities | News, Sports, Jobs

NEW ULM — Cybersecurity is a top concern for New Ulm Public Utilities.

The Public Utilities Commission accepted a $52,950 quote for IT security services on Tuesday, awarding the contract to Arctic Wolf Managed Detection and Response.

IT director Nate Beran explained this security service was needed to keep up with internet threats and monitoring the city’s utility networks. Arctic Wolf provided two types of protection services. First, it monitors computers, servers and traffic on the network. Second, it correlates information as it happens.

Beran said in the event of an internet attack, this system would not only find harmful computer viruses but trace the virus back to its source. This will allow staff to determine all the areas impacted by the virus and also determine what damage was done.

The contract with Arctic Wolf is for one year. Previously, the IT budgeted $63,730 for a three-year term. This contract would technically be under the budget, but for a shorter duration. Beran said this was a change in the original plan, but he believed this was a better direction to go for better cybersecurity.

Utility director Kris Manderfeld said this proposal would also protect public utilities’ supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) networks, which is an area of high cybersecurity risk. Separate quotes for SCADA cybersecurity could range as high as $20,000.

Cybersecurity has become a significant concern for the city and public utility departments. Hackers have been known to steal data for the purpose of extortion. These are called ransomware attacks.

In May 2021, the Colonial Pipeline experienced one of the largest ransomware attacks. The attack forced the shutdown of the pipeline to prevent a computer virus from spreading. As the pipeline was connected to the U.S. energy infrastructure, the attack was considered a national security threat.

Though New Ulm Public Utilities covers a smaller region, it is not necessarily immune to virus attacks. New Ulm public utilities have never faced a significant cyberattack, but staff wants to be proactive in defending against it.

A hacker taking control of public utility systems could result in more than just a loss of revenue. Manderfeld said if a hacker got control of the public utility SCADA system, they could do significant damage. With control of SCADA, a hacker could shut down water pumps and drain a water tower. They could disrupt wastewater controls and create a health hazard.

Manderfeld said there are likely threats waiting at the door to get into utility systems, but so far security has kept these threats outside.

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