CEO’s Message – November 2019

The Best Firewall is a Human Firewall

Ryan Zierden, Manager of Information Technology (IT) at Stearns Electric Association, continually reminds us that the best firewall is a human firewall. I want to remind you all that YOU are the first line of defense against cybersecurity threats. It only takes one click on a malicious email, website or attachment to enable a bad actor to gain access to a computer network.

The energy sector continues to be a target for cyber attacks, and we will continue to face threats that target our members, employees, supply chains and partners. It is critical that we stay vigilant. We are not only a part of one of our nation’s critical infrastructures, but also the organization that our members rely upon for their electricity needs. We want you to know we take our role in managing cybersecurity threats to our members’ data and our operations very seriously.

Ransomware, credential (or identity) theft, phishing emails and other attempts at cyber crime are no longer a question of if, but when. Anyone with a password is a possible access point into our system for bad actors. This reality spreads the responsibility of keeping our systems secure to all Cooperative employees, not just those on our IT team. At Stearns Electric, it doesn’t matter if you work in accounting, operations, billing or IT, all employees, even our linemen, complete annual training to educate ourselves to better identify these cybersecurity threats. We even go through training with our Board of Directors. Additionally, the Cooperative has several security measures in place to ensure our members’ information stays secure.

Cybersecurity impacts everyone. Here are some simple things you can do to protect yourself from cybersecurity threats:


  • Make sure all your computer software – including your web browser – is updated with the latest version. Keeping software up-to-date ensures the best protection against blocking any cyber threats.
  • Create a strong password and keep it private––it can take five days to crack a nine-character password, but more than two centuries to crack a password consisting of 12 characters or more!
  • Treat all Wi-Fi networks as a potential security risk. Never check financial or other sensitive accounts when using public Wi-Fi. Encrypt sensitive data when using a public Wi-Fi network.


  • Be on the lookout for emails, phone calls and other messages that try to gain access to your personal information. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If something seems off, trust your instinct.
  • Think before you click! Don’t click links or attached files in emails or text messages from senders you don’t know. Even if you do know the sender, hover over the link before you click, as they may have been hacked or someone could be spoofing them!
  • There are many ways to spot a phish. Visit to see them all.

Remember, YOU are the first line of defense against cybersecurity threats!


Robin C. Doege