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2014 predictions show security as growing priority on smart grid

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Monday, January 27, 2014

As 2014 gets into full swing, many utility experts are predicting that power providers will step up their efforts to maintain smart grid security throughout their infrastructures.

Grid modernization efforts are growing more frequent throughout the country's transmission and distribution networks. But with these efforts comes a need to protect these improvements. Substation automation technologies, along with other capabilities that have grown more frequent along the grid, are making it easier for companies to monitor their network activity, improve reliability, and limit power blackouts. However, they are also exposing the grid to new vulnerabilities.

Emerging cybersecurity challenges
Fierce Smart Grid reported that the Electric Power Research Institute recently published a review of the challenges that the utility industry faces when it comes to securing their transmission and distribution assets. With situational awareness applications and distribution automation becoming more prevalent, so too do the vulnerabilities they bring about.

One of the challenges that is featured in the review is the combining of legacy and next-generation equipment in operational environments. Most smart grid deployments need to use technologies that are quite recent with infrastructures that could have been constructed decades ago. In attempting to get these technologies of varying ages to work together, cybersecurity risks can emerge.

Another difficulty arises in having information technology and operational technology function cohesively. Many field and substation devices - such as intelligent electronic devices - collect information and communicate it to grid operators. However, because this data contains valuable insight about a utility's critical infrastructure, it is important that it is only accessible to the intended parties.

NERC compliance
Another hurdle that the EPRI identified was the uncertain regulatory and legislative climate for utility cybersecurity. The government has taken steps to improve critical infrastructure protection through various actions, including the development of guidelines by the National Institute for Standards and Technology, but many feel that these efforts have been somewhat disjointed.

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation has also developed a set of standards aimed at protecting the nation's electric grid. While not a be-all, end-all solution, complying with the NERC CIP guidelines is required by law, and failure to meet them could lead to sizeable fines for utilities. On top of this, they can help bolster cybersecurity.

SUBNET helps utilities develop cybersecurity solutions that are able to meet the NERC standards. By working with existing IT policies, SUBNET has helped numerous companies bolster their protection of the grid without having to overhaul their existing assets.

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The Complexities of Substation Cyber Security

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