Calls rise to force utilities to improve security


By: SGN Staff


Quick Take: If you've been heads down in your own service territory, then you may have missed the rising national drumbeat demanding that utilities improve their approach to security. This suggests that our industry needs to gets its act together voluntarily or risk a new set of security mandates. Mandates imposed from the outside will undoubtedly include unnecessary conditions and costs. - By Jesse Berst


In its rush to become smart, the electric power industry has paid scant attention to the security implications, complain Richard Andres and Karl Pabst of National Defense University in a recent post.


One of the key features of a smart grid -- two-way communications -- greatly increases access to vulnerable SCADA systems, as SGN pointed out recently in a story explaining why it is easier than we feared to blind utility substations.


"The energy industry must begin taking the cyber threat seriously," the pair conclude. "Recognizing and acting on the vulnerabilities of the smart grids is crucial to avoid rushing headlong into a national security threat that energy utilities do not understand and cannot prevent."


"Today, the grid faces threats that require new, strategic thinking to complement its focus on local interests," agrees Tom Blau, an adjunct scholar at the Lexington Institute. Writing in DefenseNews, he warns that the grid's greatest problem "is to protect software and hardware against intentional, accidental and natural threats ranging from hackers to electromagnetic pulses (EMPs)."


A recent congressional report on "Electric Grid Vulnerability” criticizes utilities for their reliance on industry consensus and voluntarism. Blau warns that the smart grid can significantly benefit everyone, but only if security is a consistent goal. And that will require a new level of strategic thinking -- and a new level of seriousness -- by electric power utilities.


Jesse Berst is the founder and Chief Analyst of SGN and Chairman of the Smart Cities Council, an industry coalition.


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