Utilities Are Vulnerable to Cyber Security Breaches, Too!

Data Breach Unsecured Warning Sign ConceptIf you are one of the 56 million people who have suffered a breach to their credit records, credit card number, debit records, tax returns or other types of identity theft, then the idea of a data security breach is not very foreign to you. All sorts of data—not just retailer and tax data—is subject to cyber security hacks and breaches. Vulnerabilities to other lesser-considered systems that store delicate information (social security numbers and payment accounting information) such as utilities are becoming the new victims of data breaches.

In fact, these information breaches are happening all over the US: by a dishonest employee at a water sewer department in Southern California, from the stolen laptop of a utility worker at a North Carolina water department and by a contractor working at a Massachusetts water and sewer commission who lost a company hard drive.

The biggest factors in these data breaches are the lack of awareness of the potential vulnerabilities coupled with inadequate data security. But any agency that collects sensitive information is vulnerable to an attack and should take a good look at their overall cyber security systems and policies.

Factors That Compromise Cyber Security

Awareness.
Because many utilities, schools, and smaller agencies use older and more antiquated systems that are self-managed, they could be vulnerable to an attack and not even know it. An agency that collects sensitive information such as social security numbers and account numbers is vulnerable to a cyber security attack.

Lack of funds.
If the biggest contributing factor to a data breach is the lack of awareness and loose security of the systems, the second biggest contributor is the perceived lack of funds to mitigate the risk. Many small agencies feel that cyber protections are expensive and don’t understand the cost implications of a potential data breach is much greater. But there are inexpensive procedures and products that can be put in place to help better secure an agency or utility’s data. For example, simply training employees to understand that they are responsible for protecting customers’ personal information is a giant step in data breach protection.

Inadequate security controls.
The third step in information protection is ensuring there are adequate firewalls and security controls on your network. This may include the additional step of regular software updates and backups that are automatically installed from the cloud to make sure there are no vulnerabilities due to outdated software.

In addition, agencies that still heavily rely on paper record-keeping are also vulnerable and should make sure that any data is properly disposed of, digital copies are protected, and copy machine drives are cleaned before replacement.

Vendor partnerships.
Vendor partnerships should also be considered and scrutinized. Agencies should be sure that anyone working within their systems is trained to the same level in discretion and record protection as their own employees. This includes making sure that the software used by contractors contains the same level of protections against data leaks or breaches. Some vendors are also insured with cyber insurance that further helps protect a utility in the event of a data breach.

Software vendors.
One way agencies can help insure better cyber protection is to employ the help of fully-integrated software vendors. By selecting a software provider that can deliver many solutions—from payroll, to bill printing, to reporting—in a single platform, results in fewer platforms to update, maintain and control. Employees only need one login to the system instead of multiple logins to multiple systems that sometimes encourages employees to write down their passwords, creating an additional vulnerability.

In addition, selecting a software vendor dedicated to the evolving needs of utility agencies is prudent. This means hiring a provider that offers backup data storage on the cloud, automatic system upgrades and cloud data storage so no sensitive information is stored on hard drives.

Black Mountain Software provides a range of solutions for utilities looking to streamline their processes while also providing better cyber security protections. To find out more about what we can do for your utility, speak to one of our customer service sales representatives at 1-800-353-8829.

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