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The best cybersecurity comes at the start of deployment

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Wednesday, December 04, 2013

While there are many opinions about how to best implement a strong cybersecurity solution, many professionals agree that the best one comes at the point of deployment.

Communication technologies and field controls are allowing utilities to optimize their power delivery. Distribution automation equipment allows for better electricity dissemination, factoring in variable elements such as grid load and newly integrated energy sources such as renewables. Further, they can limit the extent and duration of power blackouts as well.

However, these capabilities require widespread networked communication across vast distances and a variety of technologies. For a smart grid deployment to be successful it is essential that these various technologies be able to work seamlessly with one another, while at the same time only allowing access to those who the utility approves.

Integrating cybersecurity
Kristopher Ardis, the energy solutions director at an industry firm, recently wrote a guest piece for Smart Grid News on the role that cybersecurity should play in substation automation. He explained that the scope of an attack could induce long-term power outages.

In order to address these issues Ardis noted that there are a number of efforts that utilities should be making during the deployment of their smart grid systems. Standard cryptographic algorithms like AES-128 have become quite common, but there are also a number of other means that could further enhance security.

"The cryptographic algorithms are a good first step to ensure secure communications networks, but the lack of key and life-cycle security mean that alternate attack points are likely," he wrote. "An attacker might try to get communication keys by physically inspecting a smart meter."

Keeping a safe substation
It is important that cybersecurity be integrated into a smart grid deployment from the start, as the specifications of these kinds of solutions along the country's power network are different than many other situations. Substations are usually unmanned, meaning that the security measures that some other facilities might take do not apply here.

The key, according to Intelligent Utility, is being able to utilize the information that these controls, such as intelligent electronic devices, are able to compile, without allowing access to the technology itself. This requires strong IT/OT integration solutions, and restricting what technologies people can tap into.

SUBNET has worked with numerous utilities to implement cybersecurity solutions that are able to provide secure and remote access to these IEDs. Through successful integration into existing IT policies, these substation automation devices can help improve the service of these companies without compromising the safety of the grid.

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