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Cybersecurity continues to gain attention from utilities, government

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Monday, December 05, 2011

As a smarter, more wireless-based electric infrastructure begins to emerge across the U.S., many utilities are noting the importance of cybersecurity in their power management operations, while government agencies are also working to improve their cybersecurity.

Intelligent Utility reports that Flint Energies, a cooperative utility that services 17 counties in Central Georgia with roughly 88,000 clients, is one of almost two dozen co-ops to participate in the Cooperative Research Network's (CRN's) new demonstration project of a smart grid cybersecurity toolkit known as the Guide to Developing a Cybersecutity Risk Mitigation Plan.

Frank Sams, manager of network systems for Flint Energies, described the plan as an "actionable template of best practices" that will allow any co-op to apply the system to its own territories, rather than starting from scratch.

The impetus to create such a cybersecurity measure is to ensure that while installing substation automation and other smart grid technologies, co-ops don't become vulnerable to attack.

"Flint, like many co-ops, utilizes anti-virus software, firewalls, passwords and the like," said Sams. "But that doesn't add up to a full-fledged cybersecurity plan. For us, without a full-time cybersecurity person, we can customize a plan around our circumstances by using this template. This gave us a good, useful tool to walk through and review our practices and plans."

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is also delving further into the realm of cybersecurity, claiming there are much more pressing issues than new regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency.

According to Bloomberg, FERC commissioner John Norris spoke at a recent conference, touching on the EPA's proposed rules that would lower the amount of mercury and other toxins released from power plants. While many utilities are claiming such regulations could be detrimental to the grid, Norris claimed intelligent substations have a bigger enemy.

"Cybersecurity is our most vulnerable national security issue," Norris told the group yesterday, adding it was "a greater threat to our reliability" than EPA rules, and that Congress has failed to create cybersecurity legislation to protect the network.

SUBNET Solutions Inc. helps utilities follow stringent standards established by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation's critical infrastructure protection requirements. As remote access and substation automation become more prevalent, it will become even more important for utilities to follow such guidelines.  

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The Complexities of Substation Cyber Security

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