MISSOULA – Professionals from Montana’s electrical cooperatives, Northwestern Energy, federal government, state government and the National Guard recently joined faculty experts from the University of Montana for a cybersecurity training workshop.
The event, hosted in April, focused on securing Montana’s electric grid and brought together the professionals who are responsible for protecting power generation and distribution facilities from cyberattacks. The cyber threats facing Montana are real and large-scale attacks on electric infrastructure have taken place in other regions of our country.
“They can infiltrate into our infrastructure system or they can get through our network,” said Lea Potoczny, Montana Electric Cooperative Association chief operating officer. “It can cause major damage to our system and ultimately can shut the power down.”
"Disrupting the power grid is something that nation-states are certainly interested in,” said Northwestern Energy Vice President of Technology Jeanne Vold. “They want to disrupt our lives as much as possible. From a financial perspective, there could be nefarious actors that are interested in infiltrating accounts or obtaining customer information or something that's going to benefit them financially.”
UM offers cybersecurity certificates and degrees, which serve as an entry-level credentials that industry and government leaders are looking for to help fill the 1,100 open cybersecurity jobs in Montana. Events like this help ensure all responsible parties are working to address the state’s cybersecurity posture.
“Defending against cyberattacks is a team effort,” said Dr. Tom Gallagher, dean of Missoula College. “Effective communication and collaboration are needed. As a geographically large rural state, these individuals do not have the opportunity to train together. This event created communication, collaboration, and teamwork by bringing together the professionals responsible for protecting Montana’s electric grid with cybersecurity experts from federal organizations and academia.”
CyberMontana, a statewide cybersecurity resource housed at UM regularly hosts cybersecurity trainings for members of the Montana Army National Guard. This partnership provides critical incident response training to the guardsmen who will be responsible for helping to solve the state’s future cyber breaches.
"It's not if it's going to happen it's when,” Montana Air National Guard General Buel Dickson added. “Who do we contact? How do we shut it down and how do we get back online and up and running for the public?”
The Montana Cybersecurity for Montana Electric Grid Training was developed through a collaboration created by UM and an National Science Foundation-sponsored project to secure the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid. The project brought together the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Montana National Guard, Cyber406, CyberMontana, Montana Electric Cooperative Association, Northwestern Energy and local and state information technology offices.
Contact: Dave Kuntz, UM director of strategic communications, 406-243-5659, email@example.com