What IT Can Teach Utilities About Cybersecurity & Smart Grids

What IT Can Teach Utilities About Cybersecurity & Smart Grids: There is a perception within IT circles that cybersecurity threats against critical infrastructure like smart grids are a problem waiting to happen — but not right away. The reality is much more dire. Last year alone, there were a number of sophisticated attacks, and they should offer a wakeup call for the power industry.

According to figures from Department of Homeland Security’s Industrial Control Systems Computer Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT), 41% of incidents reported and investigated by the agency last year were related to the energy industry.

Smart grids refer to the new IP networks being installed in the power grid, including substations, distribution and transmission networks, and smart meters. Utilities see a lot of advantages to smart grids, such as real-time measurement of power consumption, a better understanding of use patterns, and the ability to add and disconnect customers remotely. These improvements will generate electrical power more efficiently and in a way that better matches demand.

If the vulnerabilities and security concerns are not addressed, the consequences will be terrible. An attack against a corporation would be inconvenient for the company, and online identity theft can be troublesome to the victim, but a smart grid attack would impact more victims and have far-ranging effects. If a city lost power, hospitals would have to scramble to keep life-support systems on, traffic jams and accidents would occur because the traffic lights are out, and residents would be trapped in the dark.