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2019.10.07 12:00

US to help protect Baltic energy infrastructure from cyber attacks

Vaidotas Beniušis, Jūratė Skėrytė, BNS2019.10.07 12:00

The United States has pledged to help the Baltic states to protect their energy infrastructure from cyber attacks, as Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia prepare to disconnect their power networks from the post-Soviet system and synchronize them with those of Western Europe.

A joint declaration, signed on Sunday in Vilnius by US Energy Secretary Rick Perry and his Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian counterparts, states that the US might provide strategic and technical assistance.

The declaration acknowledges “a critical moment for the Baltic States in strengthening cybersecurity in strategic Baltic energy infrastructure”.

“We see a crucial role that the US could play in assisting the Baltic States with strategic and technical support,” the declaration reads.

Lithuanian government representatives told BNS that Lithuania hoped that US companies would be involved in the modernization of the SCADA computer systems used for the management of power networks to bolster their anti-hacking protection. Also, there are plans to exchange information among specialists.

“The implementation of this project, obviously, relates to the security and stability of the power system. We want to be sure that we also have the United States' technical support in these areas,” Lithuanian Energy Minister Žygimantas Vaičiūnas told journalists on Sunday.

“The SCADA information systems operating in the Baltic states are a US creation, and we spoke today about how this cooperation should be strengthened further,” he said, adding that a platform for specialist cooperation should be created over the next six months.

“We agreed to create such a platform, a Baltic cooperation program, specifically in the area of cyber security. It will be done in approximately six months,” Vaičiūnas said.

Edvinas Kerza, Lithuania's minister of defence in charge of cyber security, told BNS that “the US involvement in the modernization of the energy production and distribution systems and the installation of security ensuring technology is important for Lithuania”.

The sources of cyber attacks were not mentioned in the document, but Lithuania's intelligence warned earlier this year that the country's energy sector was one of the targets of Russian cyber groups.

In their publicly accessible report, Lithuania's intelligence services say they are recording Russia's recurring attempts to get intelligence about Lithuania's energy systems.

“The energy sector still remains a Russian cyber target. They constantly scan the networks, looking for weak spots in security and management,” Kerza told BNS.

The Baltic states plan to connect to the European power system by 2025 to reduce their energy dependence on Moscow.

Currently, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are part of the post-Soviet IPS/UPS system, known as the BRELL ring, and are dependent on the control room in Moscow and the Russian power system.

To ensure smooth disconnection, the European Commission has vowed to join negotiations with Russia and Belarus.