Security requirements defined for smart electrical meters

DOE and electric utilities establish baseline security needs for Advanced Metering Systems that are a part of the planned Smart Grid

The Energy Department and the electric utility industry has released a baseline set of security requirements for smart meters that can help to intelligently control the flow of electricity to customers.

The Advanced Metering Infrastructure is the consumer endpoint of the Smart Grid, a system for more reliably distributing and delivering electric power. The Smart Grid is a part of the Obama administration’s plans for energy efficiency and economic recovery. However, embedding intelligence and feedback in the system creates security concerns.

“The utility industry recognizes that AMI changes the face of traditional utility security by extending two-way communications all the way to the customer premise,” the Utility Communications Architecture International Users Group said in announcing the requirements. “This groundbreaking requirements document will provide needed guidance to utilities in addressing the security challenges of this new and rapidly expanding domain.”

The users group’s AMI Security Task Force, which includes representatives from 11 utilities, Energy, security experts and vendor representatives, developed the AMI System Security Requirements between May 2008 and December 2008.

“Building not only a Smart Grid but a secure grid is a priority of the Department of Energy,” said Hank Kenchington, deputy assistant secretary for R&D in Energy's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, which coordinates Smart Grid development.

The Smart Grid is a concept that would use networking and intelligence to better control the flow and delivery of electricity to consumers. It is “a fully automated power delivery network that monitors and controls every customer and node, ensuring a two-way flow of electricity and information between the power plant and the appliance, and all points in between,” DOE said in its “National Vision for Electricity’s Next 100 years.” “Its distributed intelligence, coupled with broadband communications and automated control systems, enables real-time market transactions and seamless interfaces among people, buildings, industrial plants, generation facilities, and the electric network.”

Advanced Metering monitors power use by the consumer and offers choices to the user and the utility for more economical delivery based on usage patterns. Some elements of this already are in use, including electronic meters that report usage to the utility so that they do not have to be read by workers in the field. Because these meters also can include the ability for remote power shutoff to the customer, securing the communications between the meter and the utility is crucial.

The security requirements were created to standardize existing best practices now used by utilities. They are intended to be used by the vendor industry in product development, and by utilities for procurement requirements. The requirements cover primary security services, supporting security services and assurance services.

“The requirements will change over time corresponding with current security threats and countermeasures they represent,” the document says. “The AMI-SEC Task Force presents the current set as a benchmark, and the authors expect utilities and vendors to tailor the set to individual environment and deployments.”

Other documents being produced by the task force cover risk assessment, an architectural description, a component catalog and an implementation guide.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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