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Smart Grid Security - Is it a myth or a reality?

It is really amazing to see how sensitive we have suddenly become to the subject of "Grid Security". As I write this blog, somebody, somewhere is busy strategizing the Security plan or defining the Security standard. There are countless forums, seminars and meetings happening everyday on a single agenda i.e. how to make the Grid more secured.

For a moment, just think of the factors that have contributed to such sudden awakening. What has changed in the more than 100 years old Grid Infrastructure that threatens the security aspects so badly. Well, the experts say, the Grid is becoming more and more communication enabled with smart sensors all over the grid infrastructure, hence increasing the security vulnerability.

But the food for thought here is, was there ever any threat to the Grid Security, before the concepts like "Smart Grid", "Smart Sensors", "Bi-Directional information flow", "Intelligent Network" etc., were not ideated.

If the answer to the above question is a "Yes" then we have a much broader approach to take rather than just focusing on the "Smart" aspect of the Grid. How about focusing first on the process and people first. And then taking a need based customized approach to secure the impacted systems and technology.

If the answer to the question is a "No" then we have to be really careful in making sure other key Smart Grid objectives such as "Improved Power Reliability & Predictability", "Improved Customer Satisfaction" and "Improved operational/delivery efficiencies" are not compromised for the sake of making the Grid more secured with Smart Sensors installed over a highly intelligent network.

I would welcome your feedback on the thought irrespective of whether you think that the Smart Grid Security is a myth or a reality.

Comments

Security is the price that comes with increasing information exchange. It will be wrong to say that smartgrid brought about the information exchange revolution in utility space, but however it does take information exchange to a different level. In the pre-smartgrid era, there is still a large amount of information exchange happening but in isolated pockets. For instance the wireless communication of circuit alarms or automatic reclosers or substation scada. Then there is information exchange happening in back-office applications like OMS, DMS, EMS etc. But the reliability part is pretty much in the hands of smart engineers who are verifying and transferring these data from one pocket to another. In my opinion we are transferring this trust in a big way from the hands of highly skilled and experienced engineers to smart applications and building bridges between these pockets of information. As we add more cards to the castle we are making it more vulnerable and hence the role of security will be bigger than before to ensure reliability of the information that's exchanged. In the words of Tom Overmann (Boeing), the future information network will be in similar lines of electrical network in the sense that mesh networks will more likely replace the hierarchical flow of information just like electricity does for reliability. This will allow more handshaking between peer entities i.e. just like two different feeders will exchange signals between themselves before taking off the load on a line, maybe OMS, DMS and EMS will handshake between each other before sending control signals to the grid for key decisions.

Besides the paradigm shift of manual to automated grid control in smartgrid era, there are other factors like mandates from federal and stage agencies on power transmission and distribution. This again transfers the risk from manual steps to IT space which again brings cybersecurity into the center of things.

Please share your thoughts even if you feel I have digressed from the point you were making.

As much as Utilities will be working to secure the smart grid it will be essentials for the customers to realize the potential threat that may occur to them because of all these smart meters and sensors installed at their premise to give them maximum benefit. Smart meters will be using internet and mobile technology to monitor and control energy usage, which can be easily broken to steal the confidential information of customer.

I agree, completely. Technology has to be driven by the needs of people and process.
If new technology requires greater security, that is understandable. However, that should be dealt with through needs-based requirements, as you mention.

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