Utilities Will Spend Billions On Cybersecurity As Threat Grows

 By Constance Douris
I write about how to make the electric grid more resilient  Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology released a report in February identifying products available to enhance the electric grid’s cybersecurity. New technologies employed onto the grid are multiplying the number of access points for cyber threats.

An actual cyberattack on an electric grid occurred in December 2015 when Ukraine’s electricity was interrupted. A third party, widely suspected to be operating from Russia, conducted the attack — which resulted in 225,000 customers losing power.

It is only a matter of time until another country experiences a cyberattack that shuts down the power. If that occurs, devastating economic and security consequences may result since electricity is needed to operate pipelines, medical facilities, telecommunications, military bases and other critical infrastructure.

At present, consistent cybersecurity controls for the distribution system, where utilities deliver electricity to customers, are lacking. If a cyberattack on a utility successfully causes a power outage, a ripple effect that destabilizes electricity in large areas could occur, possibly damaging parts of the interconnected system. So it is easy to understand why research firm Zpryme estimates that U.S. utilities will spend $7.25 billion on grid cybersecurity by 2020.

Consistent cybersecurity controls for the distribution system, where utilities deliver electricity to customers, are lacking.

Cutting edge technologies are essential to help the electricity sector adapt to the evolving cyber threat landscape. Specific products that could help with cybersecurity on the grid are Siemens’ Ruggedcom Crossbow, Cisco’s 2950 (Aggregator) and Schneider Electric’s Tofino Firewall. The National Institute of Standards and Technology found that these solutions can be integrated within a utility’s network to boost situational awareness and cope with attacks.

Utilidata and Raytheon are working together to detect and respond to cyberattacks on the grid. More specifically, Raytheon is creating products that provide warnings of possible cyberattacks and identify power grid data collection and communication issues. The company is also evaluating how to maintain emergency communication networks after a cyberattack has occurred.

The Sierra Nevada Corporation has created a product called Binary Armor that provides bidirectional security for communication layers on the grid. This allows tailored rules to be set for specific messages to enter the network. Other providers of smart grid cybersecurity include VeriSign, Raytheon, ViaSat Inc., Leidos, BAE Systems and IBM.