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Vermont focuses on smart grid security improvements

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Friday, September 30, 2011

As Vermont continues to spend millions of dollars on integrating smart grid improvements to its existing electrical infrastructure, one of the state's primary focuses will be on keeping tight security controls over the systems used in transporting, distributing and monitoring power as it travels from utilities to substations and on to consumers.

According to the Vermont Digger, the Burlington Energy Department (BED) has teamed up with Sandia National Laboratories to discuss ways that security of the new infrastructure can be optimized.

One of the weakest aspects of current infrastructure is the Supervisor Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system, which collects data that runs through the grid and sends it to a central computer for processing. This was evident in 1999, when a pipeline burst in Bellingham, Washington, which caused SCADA failure. Because the technology is also used to network and control systems that run dams, power plants and gas and oil refineries, protection of the system is imperative.

The Digger cites a 2010 study conducted by McAfee Inc. that found SCADA systems can be attacked by many methods. Two-thirds of those surveyed by McAfee noted that their SCADA systems were linked in to an IP network or connected to the internet. Among those, half expressed concern that the internet connection created SCADA security problems that are not being addressed by the present software.

"BED presently utilizes a SCADA system," a memo on Burlington’s smart-grid contracts states, "but this software is several versions old and is designed to communicate utilizing radio technology."

The memo also stated that the local utility is making plans to upgrade to the latest software, convert its communication systems to fiber-optics, and install a new distribution map. With the addition of remote terminals, the software will have to ability to "speak" with equipment used in the distribution system.

Regarding cyber security, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) has developed critical infrastructure protection (CIP) standards for utilities to follow when integrating into the new smart grid.

The standards are designed to provide a framework for the identification and protection of Critical Cyber Assets, which supports the reliable operations of the Bulk Electric Electric System.

Sandia Laboratories has long been associated with security, but now through research conducted alongside the University of Vermont, the company has begun a 21st century mission of smart grid security.

SUBNET offers utilities solutions for smart grid integration and substation automation that are backed by strong security measures, which can help utilities comply with NERC CIP standards.  

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