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How vulnerable are Florida utilities to cyberattacks?

'I think [hackers are] going for anything,' cybersecurity analyst says
Posted at 5:22 PM, May 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-11 18:33:50-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — In the wake of the ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline, the FBI sent out an emergency alert to electric utilities across the U.S. to be on the lookout for a similar attack.

Utility leaders have known for years that hackers target them, and cybersecurity experts know that electric utilities are vulnerable.

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WPTV cybersecurity analyst Alan Crowetz of West Palm Beach-based Infostream believes hackers are looking for openings into the electrical companies' computer systems that control its grid of powerlines.

Crowetz said cybercriminals could also strike the computers that control the underground natural gas lines running through St. Lucie, Martin and Palm Beach counties.

Miles of energy pipelines run underground through Florida to transport natural gas, which is used to generate electricity.

Map of Natural Gas Pipeline in Florida
A natural gas line runs through the Treasure Coast to Palm Beach County.

"I think they're going for anything," Crowetz. "They almost don't care which ones are more vulnerable or less vulnerable or not vulnerable."

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Crowetz said a ransomware hack and shut down of the grid would be a disaster for Florida.

But he said our state could handle one of these hacks since many grocery stores, gas stations, and nursing homes can handle a short-term loss of electricity.

"We have extended power outages because of hurricanes. A lot of areas in the country don't have gas pumps that have generators. They don't have grocery stores with generators. We have some of that. Not enough, but we have some of that," Crowetz.

Alan Crowetz, cybersecurity analyst
Cybersecurity analyst Alan Crowetz says hackers will target almost anything, regardless of vulnerability.

WPTV wanted to know how vulnerable Florida Power and Light, the region's largest electricity provider, is to ransomware hackers.

"There were no impacts to any of the company's pipelines related to the incident at the Colonial Pipeline. We prepare for year-round emergencies. We conduct drills to ensure we are prepared to protect the company's infrastructure," said FPL spokeswoman Nina Frick in a written statement.

Crowetz and other security experts say there is an ongoing battle between ransomware hackers and the governments and businesses trying to stay a step ahead of cyberattacks.

The Colonial Pipeline hack shows the bad guys are often the ones who are a step ahead.

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