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Power grab: Hacking attempts routine for CPS Energy, company official says

Layered and overlapping security which continues to evolve keeps hackers from taking control of the power from CPS Energy.

SAN ANTONIO — Hacking is not a headline at CPS Energy. It's a battle plan implemented daily, according to Shanna Ramirez.

"We can't really be successfully operating unless we're securely operating," she said.

Ramirez is vice president and chief integrated security officer at the city-owned utility company. She said CPS Energy provides multiple overlapping security measures to ensure threats don't breach their entire system.

There's a lot on the line for a power company which serves 884,811 electricity customers and 366,709 natural gas customers. Their safeguards against hackers were not born yesterday, nor with the recent energy ransom of Colonial Pipeline, which impacted millions. 

"You will see that ransomware is one of the most commonly used weapons by cybercriminals, by hacktivists, by nation threat actors," she said.

Ramirez said outsiders had tried to breach the power company's system but were unsuccessful. She said San Antonio felt no impact.

CPS Energy would not disclose if the company became an energy ransom victim.

"What we never talk about are specific incidents publicly," Ramirez said. "We don't want to encourage bad actors."

The San Antonio Water System would not talk about any efforts it takes to fend off hackers. They said their best security tactic is keeping their security tactics under a tight lid. 

Ramirez said CPS Energy's approach is ever-evolving. In place, she said, is an eye on system architecture to segregate or isolate hacking impact.

There are "robust security tools," many of which the company can't name for security reasons. Others can be detailed and come in human capital.

"We have subject matter experts that have fantastic military experience, law enforcement experience, and private industry experience in a number of different critical areas."

The company also touts a threat intelligence awareness group, incident response and business continuity groups, and remains watchful over energy supply chain security.

"We are a constant target," she said. "Disrupting our energy supply and our fuel supply—it's a real easy way to disrupt our entire society."

CPS Energy declined a request for a fiscal representation of the layered safeguarding. 

Dana Sotoodeh, a communications specialist for CPS Energy, offered the following in a statement:

"Although we do not release our cyber-security spend details for security purposes, I can tell you that our cybersecurity expenditures are made up of:

  • Integrated-Security direct spending on tools, technologies & services;
  • Security functions built into key business partners such as Technology Services, Digital & Data Transformation, Grid Optimization & Resiliency, Gas Solutions, and Power Sustainability functions; and 
  • Special Projects, one example of which is the Alamo Regional Security Operations Center we are partnering with the City of San Antonio to open later this year.

"In addition, we supplement our own spending with partner relationships that provide us discounted or no-cost access to tools, technologies & services. Just one example of this is our access to an advanced threat analytics program that is funded by the Department of Energy though its Cybersecurity for Energy Delivery Systems program.

"And while I cannot give you an exact number, I can tell you that CPS Energy has made substantial investment into the security of our system and our security remains a very high priority for the enterprise.”

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