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Cyber Attacks on the Rise

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  Cyber attacks to the national and economic security of the United States are increasing in frequency, scale, sophistication, and severity of impact, according to the Director of National Intelligence’s (DNI) and a regulatory agency in Pennsylvania is trying to help.

“It ranks higher than terrorism, than espionage, than weapons of mass destruction,” said Pamela Witmer, Commissioner of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC), emphasizing the DNI’s comments.

Witmer met with members from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the Pennsylvania State Police, the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security, and various utilities in Harrisburg last week to highlight October as Cyber Awareness Month.

“Ensuring not only that our critical infrastructure is physically protected and that we preserve reliability but our proprietary and personal information is secure as well,” said Witmer.

According to Witmer, a cyber attack could cripple a utility or an agency and have a “devastating domino effect” on consumers especially as Pennsylvania’s infrastructure becomes more interconnected.

Witmer said more than 500 million devices are connected to the Internet in the US and cyber security attacks happen every day and were probably happening as she spoke.

“These attacks are becoming more and more prevalent,” said Marcus Brown, director of Pennsylvania’s Office of Homeland Security. “Extremist organizations are encouraging them and our cyber infrastructure will increasingly be a prime target. Cyber incidents alone or in combination with other events present new and unique challenges to Pennsylvania’s intelligence and information sharing process, to law enforcement, and to emergency management organizations.”

Erik Avakian, chief information security officer for Pennsylvania, said during Cyber Awareness Month everyone should work together to raise awareness for cyber security.

“Cyber security is everybody’s responsibility,” Avakian said. “It’s not just an IT problem, it’s a people problem.”

Event participants repeated the importance of collaboration among government agencies, business and consumers to ensure that both sensitive information and critical infrastructure are protected from cyber attacks.

Commissioner Witmer says the PUC has been doing that since the early 2000’s.

“Cyber security goes far beyond keeping financial data and other information safe; it’s also about ensuring our critical systems are protected against malicious attacks,” she said.

The PUC also released Thursday the second edition of its Cybersecurity Best Practices for Small and Medium Pennsylvania Utilities, available on the Commission’s website.