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Growing threats call for more cyber security solutions

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Tuesday, July 16, 2013

As an aging electric grid struggles to meet 21st century standards, the nation's electric supply becomes more susceptible to cyber threats, making the need for critical infrastructure protection (CIP) solutions more apparent.

Despite many technologies moving forward with the internet age, the country's critical infrastructure is reportedly not one of them. Despite the availability of cyber protection technologies, the uptake in utilizing these solutions has been minimal.

The effects of a wide scale cyber security attack on U.S. electric grid could be devastating as millions would be without power and the country's economy would be at a virtual standstill. Without wishing to scaremonger, a series of recently published articles have explained just how vulnerable the U.S. electric grid is and what the potential effects could be.

Repercussions of a vulnerable grid
Hackers could already have gained access to the nation's electrical infrastructure, according to a story published in the National Journal.

According to the news source, there is mounting evidence that hackers currently have access to 200,000 miles of transmissions lines that are essential for the power supply of over 300 million people. Also, the Department of Homeland Security processed 68 percent more cyber incidents on federal critical infrastructure from 2011 to 2012 than the year before.

An interview in Popular Mechanics with Massoud Amin, considered by the magazine as the "father of the smart grid," further highlights the short comings of the nation's power grid. Amin explains that though there has been minimal investment in improving the electric grid, utilities are sending more electricity through the grid than ever before, resulting in a drastic increase in power outages as the rest of the country becomes integrated into emerging technologies.

Amin explains that nature of these blackouts leads many to believe that the improvements are not necessary. Because power outages can occur sporadically at different locations throughout the country, it is easy to ignore them. However, the fact of the matter is that half a million people lose electricity for at least two hours per day in the United States, meaning that despite their forgettable nature these outages are very real problems.

Protecting the grid
The key to preventing these outages and protecting against cyber attacks is making what Amin calls, a "self-healing" electric grid, in which security is designed into the architecture.

By using technology that can communicate abnormal signals and make grid adjustments based on the activity levels it measures, it becomes easier for utilities to eliminate risks and minimize the damage done to electric infrastructure. This type of grid could potentially become a reality in the future as a series of reports have predicted that investment in a smart grid will increase over the coming years.

A Research and Markets report explains that global revenue for CIP solutions is expected to grow to nearly $106 billion by 2018. An additional report by the same research group explains that as more requirements for cyber security emerge, substation automation technology that can communicate information from the infrastructure will increase in prominence through 2016.

This projected revenue growth illustrates just how important CIP solutions will be for utilities in the coming years. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) has established a set of standards to which utilities must comply so as to modernize the nation's electric grid. These standards will work to increase the reliability of the grid and tighten its security so as to prevent potential widespread disruption.

SUBNET is helping lead the way into the modernized electric grid by providing utility companies with CIP solutions that ensure both grid security and reliability. Through advancements in smart grid technology, SUBNET helps utilities meet NERC CIP standards by utilizing a company's existing infrastructure and IT policies to provide major improvements without having to undergo a massive grid overhaul.

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