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Lack of smart grid cyber security standards worries experts

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Thursday, August 11, 2011

Public officials have become increasingly concerned about cyber security defenses in the U.S. as a spate of high-profile infiltrations has illustrated the relative vulnerability of many businesses and government agencies to hackers. According to a published report, many industry analysts assert that improving smart grid cyber security measures must be done in a nuanced manner.

Utility officials have been working to determine whether smart grid networks should be private, public or some combination of the two, Intelligent Utility reports. As power providers, transmitters, distributors and other utilities invest in the development of the smart grid, many experts contend that there is no such thing as a 'one size fits all' approach to critical infrastructure protections (CIP).

The U.S. has struggled to develop a comprehensive smart grid cyber security defense plan over the past few years, and consumers could soon be affected if standards are not improved - and quickly, experts say.

The smart grid essentially allows utilities to more effectively monitor and control their power supply networks, but its development also presents a way for hackers to infiltrate relatively weak cyber security defense systems that many businesses currently employ, according to industry analysts.

A number of industry groups have worked to develop guidelines for smart grid cyber security, but they have failed to produce a consensus among cyber security experts. 

What's more, the Obama Administration has touted the ability of the smart grid to transform the way power is distributed and transmitted in the U.S., but administration officials similarly have called for an increased emphasis on smart grid cyber security protective measures. While the smart grid will ultimately benefit consumers, officials contend, if it is hastily upgraded, sensitive data could be stolen by sophisticated hackers.

The Utilities Telecom Council (UTC) released a report earlier in the year that aimed to address issues that utilities face as they work to upgrade their power supply networks. The report, "The Truth About Utility and Other Critical Infrastructure Industry Telecom Capabilities and Needs," concluded that unless the federal government steps in to implement improved guidelines, cyber security standards will vary across the U.S.

"CIIs (critical infrastructure industries) will ultimately choose to build their own networks or buy telecom services based upon technical requirements, costs and levels of service required. CIIs have and will continue to utilize others to provide telecom services for certain aspects of their operations and smart grid deployments based upon these criteria," the report stated.

Industry experts are currently working with government officials to overhaul smart grid security protocols, but it could be months - or perhaps years - before a national standard is developed, analysts worry. 

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