The smart grid and the slippery business of setting industry standards.
Four years ago, Congress made its wishes known: it tabbed the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop a set of standards for the smart grid, and then instructed FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission “adopt” those standards, but only after finding a ”sufficient consensus,” and only “as may be necessary” to assure “functionality and interoperability.” Yet what is known is not necessarily clear. Who decides if consensus prevails? What does “interoperability” mean? Should FERC’s “necessary” finding extend to retail smart grid applications, arguably outside its purview? And the biggest dispute — must standards be mandatory? — finds PJM at odds with much of the utility industry.
CIP audits show utilities are just getting started with securing the grid.
Bad news from the front lines in the cyber-security war: Little meaningful progress has been made toward safeguarding the nation’s electric grid from malicious attacks. Initial cyber-security assessments and audits suggest few companies really are ready to implement the first wave of NERC critical infrastructure protection (CIP) standards, despite the fact the utility industry drafted the regulations.
Intelligent power grids present vexing cyber security problems
In a world where streetlights can be used as a weapon, controlling local utility networks becomes more than just a matter of public convenience and necessity. It becomes a matter of public safety and even national security. And in that world, the idea of an inter-networked, automated distribution grid poses troubling questions about cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
Test gets major media hype, but SCADA vulnerabilities remain
A simulated attack, named the Aurora Generator Test, took place in March 2007 by researchers investigating supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system vulnerabilities at utility companies. The experiment involved hackers invading the plant’s control system to change the operating cycle of the generator.
ERCOT utilities approach CIP compliance from varying perspectives
As proposed by the North American Electric Reliability Corp., the new critical infrastructure protection (CIP) standards charge utilities with identifying their own critical assets and related cyber systems. This approach allows great flexibility for utilities to apply the CIP standards to their particular situations. This will help ensure that their efforts focus on securing critical assets, rather than on complying with an overly prescriptive set of mandates that might or might not yield a secure grid.
Utilities are gearing up for cyber security compliance. Will the standards prove worthy?
The NERC CIP standards represent an historic achievement. They include the first mandatory cyber security requirements of their kind to be imposed on a U.S. private-sector industry. Considering the scope and sensitivity of the grid-security issue, developing a set of enforceable standards inevitably would entail a complex and contentious process. From that perspective, NERC, FERC and the industry have made remarkable progress, and their efforts deserve accolades.