CIP standards may not be enough to secure electric grid

Industry and government regulators have begun putting some teeth into mandatory reliability standards for critical infrastructure protection of the nation’s power grid, but some observers say security controls might not be adequate for today’s interconnected networks.

 

High-tension wires

Industry regulators have begun compliance audits this month on mandatory reliability standards for the nation’s bulk electric power distribution system, a step toward implementing critical infrastructure protection standards for the U.S. power grid.

“It’s a big step,” said Joe McClelland, director of the Office of Electric Reliability at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. “It’s the first time they’ll have a critical infrastructure protection standard.”

As the power grid becomes more automated and its control systems networked on a large scale, the system's cybersecurity is becoming a critical issue. The security standards for the system require that operators identify critical cyber assets that support reliable operation of the electric system, using a risk-based assessment. Violators can be fined as much as $1 million a day.

But some security experts say the standards do not go far enough. The technology of the electric grid was designed with the expectation that it would be a private network rather than an interconnected IP-addressable system, and the security standards focus largely on reliability rather than network integrity.

“I don’t think in today’s world that is even close to being adequate security,” said Jack Danahy, chief technology officer of Ounce Labs. “There has to be a more expansive understanding of what security means.”

The cybersecurity of the power distribution system is taking on more urgency with development of a new interactive smart grid and recent reports that hackers have compromised the current grid.

FERC is the government overseer of the U.S. power grid under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, but the audits are carried out by the North American Electric Reliability Corp., the industry’s designated international self-regulatory authority. Despite FERC’s authority, there is still a high degree of self-regulation in the power system. NERC developed the security standards, which FERC can approve or reject.

FERC approved the current Critical Infrastructure Protection Standards this year. FERC will review the audit results and take part in a number of them. “Not every audit,” McClelland said. “Just to check to see how they are being conducted.”

If NERC finds violations, it can propose penalties to FERC, and violators can appeal those penalties with FERC. In addition to its appellate role, FERC can also take part in NERC investigations and conduct investigations on its own, but those activities would be rare, McClelland said.

The standards apply to the bulk power system, which is identified as generation and transmission facilities handling power at 100,000 volts or more.

The physical power grid and its control systems are designed to be robust and resilient, able to withstand failures of multiple elements without interrupting the power load or causing instability. FERC and NERC are aware that cybersecurity goes beyond reliability.

“As we consider cybersecurity, a host of new considerations arise,” NERC Chief Security Officer Michael Assante said in an April 7 letter to industry stakeholders. “Rather than considering the unexpected failure of a digital protection and control device within a substation, for example, system planners and operators will need to consider the potential for the simultaneous manipulation of all devices in the substation, or, worse yet, across multiple substations.”

The threat could include not just a failure or disruption of controls or services, but their deliberate misuse as well, he said. However, in a self-certification industry compliance survey for the last half of 2008, a surprisingly large number of companies and operators reported having no critical assets that fall under the Critical Infrastructure Protection Standards. This could mean that security controls are not being implemented on portions of the grid.

At least two bills have been introduced in the House to revamp security regulation of the nation’s power grid. The bills could expand federal regulation beyond the present bulk power system as well as enhance research on security threats to the system.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.