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As smart grid deployment spreads, utilities could feel the pains of cyber security

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Monday, March 26, 2012

At the Sixth Annual IT Security Entrepreneur’s Forum, participants discussed supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) security and the possibility that critical infrastructure is being overlooked, according to eWEEK.

The event was held on March 21 at Stanford University, and was hosted by Security Innovation Network, a San Francisco-based industry advisory group.

"When you start thinking about smart grid and what that means to data, it kind of makes your head want to explode," said Mark Weatherford, deputy undersecretary for cyber-security in the national protection and programs directorate at the Department of Homeland Security. "It has all kinds of security and privacy implications. If it’s not done properly and it’s not done securely, these are things we’re going to have to live with for a long, long time."

Panel speaker Ernie Hayden, of Verizon’s global energy and utilities division, gave some concerning facts at the event, including that "97 percent of all [electrical] circuit miles wired in the U.S. are not covered by any cyber-security standards."

Doug Powell, manager of SMI security, privacy and safety for Canadian utility BC Hydro, stated that adding smart meters and other smart grid technologies made the idea of securing the system even more complex. Powell added that every utility that begins smart grid deployment is opening a door to greater vulnerability to cyber attack.

Powell added that smart meters are just one piece of a highly complex "system of systems" that comprises the smart grid, and are not even the weakest component of the new power grid.

"You can’t create real economic harm, you can’t shut the grid down [through smart meters]," said Powell. But critical infrastructure, he said, was a more grievous concern. He added that the Stuxnet attacks were a good indicator of the damage that could be done to critical infrastructure if the proper measures are not in place.

Another problem facing the smart grid, Powell told eWEEK, is the mass of data that will come from disparate systems, and how to unify these data sources. Utilities will need real-time analytics to properly manage security, he stated.

To help utilities face these challenges, SUBNET developed its Unified Grid Intelligence - an interoperability philosophy that supports its holistic approach to real-time integration of intelligent utility systems. SUBNET also helps ensure companies comply with increasingly stringent regulatory standards. 

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