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DOE’s New Cybersecurity Office Designed to Protect Energy Sector

With the energy sector, including the oil and gas industry, making preparations for cyber attacks, the Department of Energy (DOE) has established a cybersecurity office to help protect and prepare the industry.

Last Wednesday, DOE Secretary Rick Perry announced the creation of the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response (CESER). DOE said President Trump's proposed $4.4 trillion budget for fiscal year 2019 included $96 million in funding for the new office.

"DOE plays a vital role in protecting our nation's energy infrastructure from cyber threats, physical attack and natural disaster, and as secretary, I have no higher priority," Perry said. "This new office best positions the department to address the emerging threats of tomorrow while protecting the reliable flow of energy to Americans today."

According to DOE, CESER is to be led by an assistant secretary who "will focus on energy infrastructure security, support the expanded national security responsibilities assigned to the department and report to the Under Secretary of Energy." DOE added that the establishment of CESER "will elevate the department's focus on energy infrastructure protection and will enable more coordinated preparedness and response to natural and man-made threats."

Cybersecurity has taken on a new urgency since Trump took office last January, the same month DOE -- under then-President Obama -- recommended that it coordinate with other government agencies to determine whether additional cybersecurity protections for the nation's natural gas pipeline network are warranted.

During his Senate confirmation hearing, Perry pledged to take cyber threats to the energy sector seriously, and that DOE had a "massive role to play" in protecting the industry.

Last May, the American Gas Association said no natural gas utilities had been hit by WannaCry ransomware, a cyberattack that affected computer systems and caused mayhem worldwide. In June 2017, a group of Democratic senators urged Trump to direct DOE to examine the threats Russian hackers pose to energy infrastructure in the United States.

Cybersecurity was also a topic of discussion at the 2017 winter policy meetings of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC). A panel of experts told NARUC that the nation's electric utilities have resources at their disposal to fight cyber threats, but concerns remain over how much training their personnel receives.

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