Following a warning from the FBI last month that Russian hackers were attacking the US power grid, Energy Services Group (ESG) has been knocked offline for the second time in recent months.
As of this writing, ESG’s systems remain offline to scores of brokers, suppliers, and utilities in Texas that rely on them every single day. ESG has yet to release many details in regards to the continued outage, but it has stated that it will be down until “further notice.”
ESG not only strongly supports and impacts Texas’ energy operations, but dozens of other states, provinces, and prefectures, as well. In fact, ESG serves over 300 energy suppliers and supports 250+ utilities.
ESG is a data interface – an electronic data interchange that facilitates thousands of daily transactions for natural gas and electricity customers in Texas. ESG allows for the easy transfer of information for a customer such as address information, payment history, utility meter readings, historical energy usage, etc. ESG is one of the largest companies of its kind. Chief competitors EnergyLink by Red Dog Systems and EC Infosystems have not reported any similar outages recently, so ESG appears to have been singled out as a vulnerable target.
Brokers, suppliers, and utilities across the state of Texas use ESG to ensure that a customer’s request for electric/gas service is properly executed and service is turned on as requested and scheduled.
While the name ESG and its role may be unknown, millions of utility customers are affected by the role it plays. When that new gym, restaurant, or office complex opens up down the block, there’s a good chance its electricity was turned on in part through ESG’s systems.
When an ESCO like ESG works, nobody knows it exists. When it doesn’t work — like today – market participants have to fall-back on older, manual, or generally more archaic methods of submitting service orders for customers directly through local utilities. These methods are slow and extremely cumbersome, costing time, money, and resources.
Businesses don’t open on time. Businesses go without power for a day or two. Utilities, brokers, and suppliers have to pay overtime for their employees. It is not time spent productively.
While it is unproven as of right now if this recent outage is attributed to Russian hackers, this type of attack resembles previous attempts by the Russians to disrupt the United States’ infrastructure.
These type of “small” sophisticated attacks won’t typically make major, national headlines, but they do have a significant economic impact, particularly (and naturally) to those affected by them in the first place.
For companies in the energy sector (and any sector), continued diligence and focus on security/IT is paramount. Much like ESG, IT is something that when it does its job, nobody knows it exists. When you don’t make it a priority, and sometimes even when you do, events like this can and will happen.
If you are a customer counting on power to be turned on or switched anytime in the next few days, it is highly suggested that you to get in touch with your broker or supplier. Take a hands-on approach to ensure your business’s power is turned on as scheduled.