Secure grid from turbine to toaster

While traditional IT security emphasizes confidentiality, integrity, and availability, control system security emphasizes safety, reliability, and integrity.


ISSSource“The smart grid is an enormous environment and each house is an open port to that grid. Securing meters, distributing patches, communications, and the sheer physical expanse are all huge challenges,” said Patrick Miller.

Miller, chief executive at EnergySec and principal investigator for the National Electric Sector Cybersecurity Organization, Pike Research senior analyst Bob Lockhart, and Ernie Hayden, managing principal for energy security at Verizon discussed issues and presented the webinar “Securing the smart grid” last week.

They looked at challenges to securing smart grid supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, how industry should approach the task, how securing SCADA is different from securing enterprise information technology (IT) networks, and what the security issues are for SCADA communications.

Standards don’t seem to be one of the problems. NISTIR 7628: “Guidelines for Smart Grid Cyber Security” is a solid foundation for going about the task agreed all three experts. However, the nomenclature in titling the documents could be better. “They shot themselves in the foot by using the word ‘guidelines’ instead of ‘standards,’” Hayden said.

“NISTIR is great guidance,” added Miller. “Implementing what we have is the problem. The C-levels (management) need to step up. Security is what’s important.”

Discussions during the webinar were far ranging and included: Securing Smart Grid SCADA Systems; security guidelines that best determine adequate security; how SCADA security is different from smart metering security; SCADA communications security issues; what the key Smart Grid Cyber Security risks and vulnerabilities that industry has not adequately mitigated are; identifies which technologies that can improve the cyber security of Smart Grids; and related important technology issues for Smart Grid cyber security?

Analyzing the differences in securing the grid versus securing an industrial facility, Pike Research, notes that industrial control systems process different data than enterprise networks, for different reasons, and most of the endpoint actors are machines, not people.

While traditional IT security emphasizes confidentiality, integrity, and availability, control system security emphasizes safety, reliability, and integrity. Thus, the objectives are different, the approaches can be different, and oftentimes even the products are different.

However, some things stay the same. No matter how much we add automation to a power grid, the underlying objectives still exist. Integrating IT into a power grid presents enormous potential to deliver commodities more efficiently and profitably. Newer techniques can significantly reduce wasted energy, with social and environmental benefits.

Sheble is an engineering writer and technical editor in Raleigh, NC.

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