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Microsoft Launches Partner Program To Protect Utilities

As evidence mounts that attackers are probing critical infrastructure worldwide, Microsoft is spinning up a new partner program for securing utility customers' operations through modernization.

Larry Cochrane, Azure Principal Program Manager, Energy, unveiled the Azure Certified Elite Partner Program for Cyber Analytics in Power and Utilities this month in a Microsoft blog. That post cited a flurry of recent attacks affecting the utilities industry, including devastating take-downs of the power grid in Ukraine, the WannaCry ransomware and a recent targeting of U.S. power firms, including the Wolf Creek nuclear facility in Kansas.

"Microsoft is deeply aware of the importance of cybersecurity for companies supporting the electric grid and is committed to helping partners and customers secure their nations' most critical of critical infrastructure," Cochrane wrote.

The program hinges on the Operations Management Suite (OMS), which is Microsoft's Software as a Service IT management platform for cloud and on-premises systems, and this new group of elite systems integrator partners with OMS deployment expertise. Starting in the United States with plans to expand worldwide, Microsoft aims to seed utility participation by covering the initial costs for deploying and running the Azure-based OMS, and will also include a limited Azure subscription to help with training, development and expediting projects.

The platform will be able to collect data from Windows agents, Linux agents, System Center Operations Manager, various Azure resources, Office 365 and custom logs. In response to an e-mailed question, Cochrane confirmed that the data sources go "way beyond just Microsoft systems," and noted that the platform offers several ways to capture data about the SCADA systems that are often targets in industrial attacks.

In addition to the management capabilities, another important component is anti-malware software built into OMS and extended for the utility solution.

"Initially this Azure Certified Elite Partner Program is all about securing our nation's power system," Cochrane said in the e-mail interview. "Utilities may potentially get immediate value about threat actors and malware that might be present in their networks."

Longer-term, Cochrane said he hopes the program will cause utility customers to see the value of OMS and sign up. "The power and utilities industry is undergoing the most fundamental change since its inception, driven in part by renewables and digital transformation," he said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 24, 2017 at 4:58 PM