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Minnesota Cooperative Deploys Cybersecurity

May 11, 2017
A new monitoring capability is designed to deliver high value cybersecurity insights and expertise.

Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative (MVEC) has deployed a new solution to protect its smart energy networks from cyber threats, as reported recently by its local station, Erie News Now. 

The utility’s new Managed Security Service Provider (MSSP) solution, N-Sentinel Monitoring, helps safeguard all of the utility’s IT and operations networks and data, while providing insights into network traffic to assure MVEC’s grid and member information stay safe and secure from cyber threats.

MVEC, an electric cooperative with 41,000 members across a 968 square mile service area, has a four-member IT team with responsibility for supporting the communications and computing infrastructure and services for the utility’s 85 employees as well as the operations networks’ solutions for Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), Outage Management System (OMS), Distribution Automation (DA) and Demand Response.

The N-Sentinel Monitoring service performs as an extension of the IT team providing around the clock monitoring of the IT and OT networks, delivering timely threat intelligence and expert security guidance to help the utility reduce risk and improve their security posture.

“After reviewing how much cybersecurity insight N-Sentinel Monitoring provides, we realized we couldn’t afford to not subscribe,” said Jeff Hanson, Information Technology Supervisor, MVEC. “I would have to employ a full-time security analyst and invest in a range of additional tools to gain access to the valuable information and expertise I get with N-Sentinel.”

For example, early this year, there was a lot of chatter about Grizzly Steppe – the Russian civilian and military intelligence Services (RIS) malware associated with a potential grid infiltration of a Vermont cooperative utility. The CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) alerted cooperative utility executives, including MVEC’s CEO, about the potential Grizzly Steppe threat. As a result, Hanson received an email from MVEC’s CEO inquiring how confident he was that their utility was protected from Grizzly Steppe and similar Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs). Hanson responded by sharing with him the N-Sentinel Flash Alert, which included specific details about Grizzly Steppe. Furthermore, Hanson informed MVEC CEO that he had contacted N-Dimension’s team of cybersecurity experts directly, and they verified there was no presence of Grizzly Steppe threat signatures identified on MVEC’s network, nor had any been found on the networks of other N-Dimension customers. Hanson indicated that this type of analysis in response to breaking threat news is a very effective and important element in MVEC’s security program.

“This was a great example of utilizing the intelligence and awareness provided via the N-Sentinel service to help me assure our CEO and Board members of our capability to respond to the ever-changing threat landscape,” stated Hanson.

“Intrusions can happen in minutes and detection can take months. It’s proven that early awareness can make a significant difference in reducing potential cyber threat damage,” said Tom Ayers, president and CEO, N-Dimension. “We provide utilities with threat knowledge and expert guidance to enable them to take timely and appropriate actions to reduce risk exposure.”

The original Erie News Now story is available at this link.

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