At Issue: How to Protect the Smart Grid From Cyberattacks

Electricity systems and the smart grid are becoming big targets for hackers. Photo courtesy sylvar / Flickr CC

October 31, 2011 By

Vehicles speed toward a railroad crossing as a train approaches. But the warning lights stay off and the gates remain open. Traffic signals blink out at numerous busy intersections, snarling traffic for miles. Pressure in a residential gas line spikes but sensors fail to warn the utility. A nuclear power plant overheats but the safety systems indicate things are normal.

Such systems — termed Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) — run unnoticed when functioning properly, but a malfunction can mean catastrophe. And now, added to the normal vulnerabilities in any mechanical or electrical system, are some new threats. These systems are now targets of cyberattacks from individual hackers, groups with some social or political agenda — even nations intent on creating havoc.

The threat is not science fiction. In an experiment caught on video and released on the Internet, an electrical power generator is hacked and damaged remotely. According to CNN, the experiment, dubbed “Aurora,” was conducted in 2007 by the U.S. Department of Energy. “DHS acknowledged the experiment involved controlled hacking into a replica of a power plant's control system,” said a CNN article. “Sources familiar with the test said researchers changed the operating cycle of the generator, sending it out of control.”

For more than 10 years hackers have managed to disrupt, damage or stop the operation of critical infrastructure. A report from the Black Hat information security conference outlines some of the better-known incidents. In 2000, hackers gained control of Russia’s Gazprom natural gas pipeline network, and in 2003, a worm attack shut down an Ohio nuclear power plant safety system. And computers seized in Al-Qaeda training camps had data on SCADA systems for dams and other infrastructure.

According to one industry paper, less well-known but more insidious attacks have been occurring for at least five years. Perhaps the most sophisticated attack of all was a Stuxnet worm attack on Iran’s uranium enrichment program, blamed by some on the U.S. and Israel.

In September, the Department of Homeland Security released a bulletin warning of threatened attacks on infrastructure by so-called “hacktivists.”

So what can utilities and local governments do to reduce vulnerability? One common-sense approach is to avoid exposing these systems to the Internet. A tutorial by DPS Telecom says: “For security reasons, SCADA data should be kept on closed LAN/WANs without exposing sensitive data to the open Internet.”

But removing SCADA networks from the Internet might prove expensive. “Using the Internet,” reads another industry report on the subject, “makes it simple to use standard Web browsers for data presentation, thus eliminating the need for proprietary host software. It also eliminates the cost and complexity of long-distance communications.”

As systems become more complex, intelligent and networked, some security problems may be solved while others are created. Larry Karisny, a frequent contributor to Digital Communities on the subject of the smart grid, answered some questions about this arcane but essential subject.

Digital Communities: How does one differentiate between all the different types of industrial control systems?

Karisny: The capabilities between these systems are beginning to blur in functionality as the technical limits that drove the designs of these various systems are no longer as much of an issue. From legacy telephony connections to small embedded controls attached to an industrial computer via a network, we are entering a whole new world in critical infrastructure system design. When you start interconnecting these system design functions you start detecting existing security problems or need to find new ways to secure these needed power-grid upgrades.

Historically weren’t SCADA systems closed and very hard to penetrate? For example, to disrupt the electrical supply in the past, someone would have to attack the physical components?

One of the biggest fears of power grid attacks is physical. When reviewing the components of the power grid, there were potential single-operator catastrophic physical vulnerabilities found in facilities. With a single lock on a door and no way of viewing the operator, video cameras are now put in power grid locations — understanding that even physical components and human intervention can add to security vulnerabilities. Some of the most catastrophic power generation failures were caused by a combination of equipment failure and operator error and/or human error. Adding intelligence to SCADA systems can actually offer instantaneous information that could detect and detour catastrophic energy production errors. Keeping the power grid dumb is really not an option in securing today’s power grid.

Some say, “For security reasons, SCADA data should be kept on closed LAN/WANs without exposing sensitive data to the open Internet.” Is that principle being violated? If so, why?

I recently participated in a webinar Duqu, the Precursor to the Next Stuxnet hosted by Security Week with Kevin Haley, director, of Symantec Security Technology and Response. Interestingly some SCADA system breaches in Europe were stand-alone closed systems. With investigations still in process, even these seemingly closed systems were breached without access from outside networks.

As for open Internet connecting to sensitive data, the answer is not just “Don't put Internet access in” — but also keep it out. I was in an SRI International research extension and showed the research facility director 10 SSID’s capable of campus wireless Internet access, including an unsecured connection from the coffee shop down the street. Add this to your closed LAN/WAN port access with some SCADA OS [operating system] software offering backdoor vulnerabilities, and what you consider a closed system may not be closed at all.

Some regions are rolling out smart-grid projects which provide feedback to households so customers can adjust energy use, get better rates at off-peak hours, and even generate their own power and feed it into the grid to “run the meter backward.” Won't all these additional network access points increase the vulnerability of the grid to hackers?

The main business case for adding intelligence to the power grid (smart grid) was based on collecting electrical demand-side usage information. By knowing peak and off-peak electrical usage (combined with rewarding or penalizing end-user habits) peak power production capital overbuilds and production operational costs could be greatly reduced. Some estimates showed that power production could be reduced by as much as 30 percent, sometimes completely eliminating the need of building a new power plant to the grid.

In addition, if new alternative energy resources were to be added to the power grid there needs to be measured intelligence capabilities to credit the addition of these new energy sources. Without adding intelligence to the electrical demand-side network edge, these demand-side benefits in our current power grids could not be achieved.

As millions of smart grid edge devices (smart meters) were deployed, security concerns became an issue. These security concerns are nothing new to power companies. Legacy electromechanical meters have been run backward for years and are one of the main reasons (preventing electrical theft) China and India are upgrading to smart meters. We need to add network edge intelligence to our power grids while securing the collection of information from the device chip set to the local power-grid data collector. Connecting millions of these smart meters with end-to-end security needs to be done and can be. Smart grid networks should be designed to limit potential network demand-side breaches while isolating internal SCADA systems and networks from demand-side systems and networks.

What can local governments do to lower the vulnerability of critical city and county utilities and other SCADA-managed systems?

Power companies are not the only entities needing to upgrade security for their SCADA systems. SCADA is used in many critical infrastructure systems including manufacturing, production, power generation, fabrication, refining, water treatment and distribution, wastewater collection and treatment, oil and gas pipelines, electrical power transmission and distribution, wind farms, public safety, civil defense, large communication systems, buildings, transportation systems, airports, ships and even space stations. As these systems begin to connect to other control systems they all need one thing in common: a private local wireless and secure IP network.

With tight city and county budgets, building a private IP network for most cities and counties is out of the question. Collaboration with multiple government agencies and private-sector communication entities needs to occur if they are to accomplish the building of this secure network supporting critical infrastructure systems and applications. Building a network for the smart grid offers a big opportunity here. The power company could be the seed anchor tenant because it already owns massive communication fiber-optic and wireless infrastructures and has deep pockets in capital investment for supporting these needed local network upgrades.

Cities and counties have the relationships with the power companies and sometimes even publicly owned assets to support these network build-outs. The smart grid should be viewed as the first step in building the networks we need in securing local SCADA critical infrastructure. Collaboration by the public and private sectors can make this happen. In addition, edge security solutions available today could allow the economical and secure sharing of these needed local wireless IP networks for multiple users and applications. These steps would address the vulnerabilities while reducing the costs of these critically needed security requirements of city and county critical infrastructure.


The Stuxnet 2, Coming to a SCADA System Near You!

Smart Grids 4
Smart Grids

Hackers Target Critical Infrastructure

October 26, 2011 By

With a new Stuxnet 2 (W32.Duqu) now found and the Department of Homeland Security warning of a possible security attack by Anonymous, it probably is a good start to define some security solutions to protect these critical infrastructure targets. Breaching these supervisory control and data acquisition systems (SCADA) could bring our country’s safety and economy to their knees.

One good thing that came out of designing intelligence for the smart grid was we that had to take a look at how to securely integrate some old, transitioning and new-grid technologies into stand-alone, local or regional control centers. A big part of these control centers are SCADA systems that monitor and control industrial, infrastructure and facility-based processes. These control systems in many more areas than the power-grid facilities. They can be found in manufacturing, production, power generation, fabrication, refining, water treatment and distribution, wastewater collection and treatment, oil and gas pipelines, electrical power transmission and distribution, wind farms, civil defense sirens systems, large communication systems, buildings, airports, ships and space stations, just to name a few. Some of the debilitating security warnings that were found in the smart grid unfortunately are not limited just to power-grid SCADA infrastructure.

No matter how new or old the technology, there are tremendous concerns about how to secure these core supervisory control systems and their interconnected intelligent networks. Whether physically pulling down a mechanical switch, pushing a button on an electromechanical device or operating an intelligent smart grid from a centralized network operation center
(NOC) — they all have inherent security vulnerabilities. There are those who say that we should delay any digital intelligent modernizing of our power grid. So while moving forward, we need to do this in stages, watching security at every point.

Richard Clarkes bookCyber War warns of cyber-attacks on the smart grid but also demonstrates an existing ability to breach and take down our legacy power grid infrastructure. Simply doing nothing is not an option in securing the power grid or any critical infrastructure. Countries like India, China and Brazil are moving forward with smart-grid deployments as fast as they can. They recognize the benefits that intelligent networked systems would offer in eliminating power theft while improving their global energy cost competitiveness. They see these benefits far outweighing any catastrophic system security breach and have massive smart-grid deployment in process. So what are the real answers in addressing critical infrastructure security today? Just three things need to be done, and they need to be done simultaneously.

Evaluate Current Security Vulnerabilities

From physical security, to legacy and extended networks, there is a lot of work to be done to address critical infrastructure security. Critical infrastructure facilities can't just hunker down and hope an attack doesn't happen. From simple personal procedures to complete intrusion detection studies, the potential vulnerabilities must be targeted before they are breached. There are automated methodologies that are being developed, though, that may rapidly address these requirements.

To expedite and future-proof security evaluations, Sensus, EnerNex and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are working on an advanced security demonstration project called the Automated Vulnerability Detection system (AVUD). This project is aimed at developing a cyber-security system for smart energy meters and other advanced grid technologies. The project will use a Function Extraction (FX) technology evaluation platform developed by ORNL to find and fix security issues before they actually cause problems. The initial project is targeting advanced meter infrastructure (AMI) systems. With millions of smart meters ready to deploy, this can't happen soon enough.

Focus on Prevention

If there was ever a security industry award for the best metaphor, the word “virus” perfectly explains what can happen without preventive measures in systems and network security. Just like measures against colds and flu, it seems we are now beginning to focus more on prevention than detection. This is why intrusion prevention systems (IPS) are so critical in SCADA systems. IPS can securely cloak systems with frame-to-frame encryption even to the layer 2 level. This could eliminate port and application vulnerabilities right down to the device chip set. It can eliminate man-in-the-middle (MITM) spoofing/sniffing risks or denial-of-service (DoS) vulnerabilities while enabling strong security on even legacy devices.

Because IPS is inline with the traffic flows on a network, it can shut down attempted network edge attacks, stop attacks by terminating the network connections or user/device session origination. Attack responses can include targeting from the user account, IPS address or other attribute associated with that attacker, or blocking all access to the targeted host, service or application. It seems like an obvious first choice. Don't let the security breaches in.

Detection and Prevention a Natural Mix

Then there is an intrusion detection system (IDS). This system is passive, watching packets of data traverse the network from a monitoring port, comparing the traffic to configured rules, and setting off an alarm if it detects anything suspicious. With Stuxnet 2 (W32.Duqu) now a big concern, we need systems that can detect these now more serious security attack methodologies. These new attacks are now targeting information for SCADA systems used to control machinery and other key critical infrastructure operations.

Although IDS has great value, just seeing the problem is not enough. There must be system security solutions put in place to immediately react to security breaches. This is why bundling both IPS and IDS solutions together seems to be the direction many companies are taking in their security product lines, including recent corporate mergers and acquisitions.

In Conclusion

The AVUD project by Sensus, EnerNex and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory is a good sign of public-private sector cooperation in addressing critical infrastructure security. There has been too much oversight and finger pointing in the past and not enough action. Hopefully the responsible collaboration will be used as a model of how to work together in securing our critical infrastructure. This sure will be different than the “build first, then secure it” methodologies that have been so prevalent in the past. Look at security first and prepare for the future security risks. This is almost too good to believe.


Securing the Intellectual Property of Smart Grid Security

Theodore Wood

A unique view to the realities of cybersecurity.

August 25, 2011 By

Theodore Wood's job, at D.C.-based Sterne Kessler Goldstein & Fox, is the discovery and protection of intellectual property in things like smart-grid security. From international cyber security espionage to plain old American ingenuity, Wood offers a unique view to the realities of cybersecurity.

Karisny: Your Grid Industry Group responsibilities for Sterne Kessler Goldstein & Fox include an interesting intellectual property focus, especially in light of the recent cybersecurity attacks. I am beginning to wonder which IP we are protecting, Intellectual Property or Internet Protocol. How serious do you see these attacks and is our critical infrastructure like the power grid a target?

Wood: Our Grid Industry Group focuses on companies that innovate to protect and enhance the resiliency of our power grid. And cybersecurity is one of the primary areas where companies are heavily innovating. Therefore, we follow the cybersecurity challenges, technologies, and guidelines pretty closely. With respect to the cybersecurity attacks, I think you're referring to recent attacks on the IT (information technology) systems of targets such as Sony's online gaming site, various government sites like the senate and the CIA, companies such as Google, a host of credit card companies and several others. We absolutely see these attacks as extremely critical, primarily because they seem to demonstrate a level of success, persistence and an increasing level of organization by the attackers. Fortunately, it doesn't appear that our critical infrastructure has been attacked in the same way as these other sites. But there is little question that critical infrastructure, like the grid, will eventually be targeted. And a successful attack on the grid would be totally devastating, with national security implications.

We all are familiar with former CIA Director Leon Panetta's comments stating that the next Pearl Harbor could be a cyber attack that cripples our electric grid. I'm also reminded of a recent story by Good Morning America, relying on a report from the Department of Homeland Security. This story noted the possibility that sabotage by insiders at a major utility facility could provide Al Qaeda the opportunity for a massive September 11 anniversary attack. And Richard Clarke, in his new book entitled Cyber War, states that the "clearest example of vulnerability brought on by computer controls happens to be the one system that everything else depends upon: the electric power grid." These are just a few examples of recent public comments about vulnerabilities of our critical infrastructure.

Karisny: The words Cyber, Internet, IT and IP sometime get blurred when they are actually very different especially when it comes to security. Can you give some examples that may differ?

Wood: A big part of the reason for the increased risk is due to the Internet Protocol based networks that interconnect our critical infrastructure to global networks. The interconnected systems may be an IT system, or an industrial control system (ICS). Traditional IT systems include components such as routers, network interface controllers and servers. A traditional ICS includes components such as distributed control systems (DCS), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, and programmable logic controllers (PLCs), all of which are used in industries like water, transportation, manufacturing, oil and natural gas, and electricity. These ICS components do things like facilitate data collection from remote locations, control valves, trip breakers, operate relays, monitor alarms etc. Many of these ICS components are integrated with various legacy systems that were not developed with security in mind. The Internet Protocol considerations play a big role because most often the underlying protocol provides the extensive connectivity by which unauthorized and/or malicious persons, machines, or code gain access to these critical systems. But cybersecurity must also consider factors that are unique to each type of system, whether IT or ICS, to ensure that even if unauthorized access is made, damages can be minimized.

Karisny: Knowing networks are different, where should we be focused in protecting critical infrastructure security?

Wood: In my view, the IT/ICS distinction I just mentioned is significant to the discussion of where to focus cybersecurity solutions. Here is the significance: There is a growing recognition that cybersecurity solutions designed for IT systems may not apply to an ICS. Additionally, ICS have different performance and reliability requirements that typical IT support personnel may be unfamiliar with. On the other hand, there are some similarities between ICS and IT systems that create an overlap with some of the cybersecurity solutions. For example, many of the lower-cost IT solutions are now being applied to ICS. But many of these IT solutions fail to provide the security isolation needed by an ICS. As I mentioned earlier, ICSs are employed extensively in our critical infrastructure which creates these sorts of unimaginable consequences if attacked successfully.

A recent Homeland Security Newswire story ... pointed out that the large number of high profile cyber attacks on major corporations and government entities has driven a sharp increase in cybersecurity spending. I would submit, however, that the majority of this spending has been on IT cyber security and not necessarily critical infrastructure ICS cybersecurity. Therefore, we still need something to spur or trigger R&D, innovation, and investment in critical infrastructure ICS cybersecurity. I believe the trigger for this additional R&D, innovation and investment is quality intellectual property (IP). By providing creative incentives, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) can play a pivotal role in the development and protection of IP related to ICS cybersecurity. And if done correctly, this would help ensure that cybersecurity innovations and technologies are more commercially attractive for vendors to develop and for investors to fund.

Karisny: You come from a military background that addressed security on a "need to know" basis and we now live in an age of social networking. Is there some common-sense approach to protecting Intellectual Property in this very open world we live in?

Wood: When I was active duty Air Force, we would simply stamp everything as "secret" and ask questions later. I'm of course exaggerating, but only just a little. For very good reasons, many innovations related to cybersecurity and encryption have been kept by companies as "trade secrets." And there are still a lot of good reasons for protecting IP in this manner. The problem today, however, is two words: "social networking." Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn discussion groups, and professional blogs provide excellent forums for in-depth technical discussions. I participate in many of these discussions and monitor many others. But when you read the content of these discussions carefully you can't help but wonder how much of the information being discussed, perhaps unknowingly, is some company’s trade secrets. And once publicly disclosed, a trade secret is no longer proprietary and can be used by a company's competitors. Social networking also, unfortunately I might add, provides a convenient way for a disgruntled employee to easily and maliciously disseminate large amounts of proprietary information. Therefore, the tendency to rely only on trade secret protection for all cybersecurity and encryption innovations may be too risky. So wherever possible, companies should protect their key IP by filing for patents early in the development process. Once you file for patent protection of your idea, most of the issues related to trade secret protection, such as those noted above, disappear.

Having said that, the military’s "need to know" based policy was directed at national security concerns. Some of the innovations for cybersecurity, even in the defensive sphere, may be considered as important to national security. The PTO has a procedure to filter such applications and process them separately, striking a balance between protecting national security and protecting inventor rights.

Karisny:. Do you think the stimulus funds directed towards smart meters and not security may be the cart before the horse?

Wood: Don’t want to go that far, but there is certainly an imbalance that must be corrected. Smart meters serve an important consumer function enabling a much more efficient use of electricity, which benefits electricity producers and consumers. As you may be aware from a recent Forbes article, about 75 percent of 2009 stimulus dollars were directed to smart meters. I'm not advocating reducing the amount of spending on smart meters. But I do believe that we need to increase the amount of spending in ICS cybersecurity. As I stated a little earlier, we need to create more incentives for companies and individuals to innovate and invest at the infrastructure end (ICS) rather than, or as well as, at the consumer (IT) end. Grid security used to be exclusively the concern of the power generation companies. But this is no longer true with the expansion of smart grid. A lot of new players are in positions to play a role in securing the grid. So healthy competition can also be used to trigger innovation in this field. Increased spending can certainly help this process.

Karisny:. If we are to address security in areas like the smart grid, how should you protect the Intellectual Property that in turn will protect the network? Power companies are saying who are you, come on in, lock the door, sign this very enforceable non-disclosure and don't expect to get your tested equipment back. What are your suggestions for Intellectual Property protection in this sensitive area of critical infrastructure security?

Wood: I believe the answer to this question is creativity and innovation. Before addressing the IP aspect of your question, I would like to comment on what I mean by creativity and innovation. This past June, I had the privilege of attending the annual conference for a group called the National Electric Sector Cyber Security Organization Resource (NESCOR), managed by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). I think that NESCOR is a pretty creative and innovative concept. NESCOR is the research and analysis arm of National Electric Sector Cyber Security Organization (NESCO) which is a public-private partnership that serves as a focal point to bring together utilities, federal agencies, researchers, vendors and academics. And from what I understand, they're kind of a think tank that helps focus cybersecurity R&D priorities, collect and analyze critical infrastructure vulnerabilities and threats, as well as collaboratively develop solutions in real-time. This group was established by Congress and is funded by the Department of Energy to act as a quick reaction solutions oriented group of super smart people. I believe that groups like this public-private partnership will be crucial to the development of ICS cybersecurity. I also believe that groups like NESCOR make it easier for power companies to discuss potential vulnerabilities in a forum that focuses on solutions instead of penalties.

In my opinion, IP professionals should be involved in these public-private partnerships. By partnering with groups such as NESCOR, at a very early stage of the innovation and technology development process, the IP professionals can help companies develop effective IP strategies that identify and protect the correct IP -- IP they can [use] to facilitate early-stage funding.

Answering the question from a different perspective, the old power company model may have been adequate for earlier times. Then, threats to the grid were low and didn’t originate from all corners of the world. Also, the relevance of our economy and national security on the grid was much less than now. As mentioned earlier, in addition to the relative increase in threats to the grid, with smart grid, the number of stakeholders, or entities in a position to protect the grid, has increased. So while for some innovations, plain and simple secrecy and a non-disclosure agreement will do, I would suggest that a large portion of innovation should be protected not only by U.S. patents, but by international patents as well.

The U.S. is in a position to lead in this sector because we have to innovate now to protect our networks and grid, whereas other countries have nowhere near the same threat at the moment. The rest of the world, however, will eventually face the same problems. With this said, U.S. companies that innovate now may be in a better position to leverage their IP internationally.

Karisny:. There have been some reports of China breaching our power grids. When you have people like this who are not going to play by the rules what good is a legal IP document?

Wood: I'm aware of reports that claim hackers from China, and other nation states, have breached our power grid. You are right in that IP is not the answer to those elements. In fact in many of those cases, the goal of the hackers is the theft of IP. IP rights are designed to incentivize companies and individuals to innovate. A properly calibrated IP system, where companies or individuals can acquire IP rights in a timely manner, and be rewarded for their innovations, is what is needed to jumpstart critical infrastructure cyber security in resiliency-enhancing innovations. This process will ultimately help securitize our nation’s critical infrastructure. So, although IP rights are not a direct answer to hackers and other cyber criminals, as the threats get more frequent and more serious, the companies with IP rights in various solutions can stand to benefit tremendously from monetization of this IP.

Karisny: We are beginning to see the need for interoperable security all the way from DOD to someone's house. Living in Florida I have witnessed hurricane infrastructure destruction that makes it absolutely necessary for all government agencies and the private sector to securely and interoperably communicate. Could the smart grid be the beginning of this locally needed smart secure wireless IP infrastructure?

Wood: I think we have seen again and again that increased interconnectivity and interoperability produces huge benefits in efficiencies. So that is where we should go. The smart grid, as envisioned, will be an extensive part of this interconnectivity -- ultimately increasing the grid’s resilience to natural or other disasters (e.g., multiple built in redundancies). So, it stands to reason that the smart grid is a part of the extensive secure communication medium, such as you mentioned.

Karisny:. We are entering into a massive wireless device market with the majority of these wireless connections being machine to machine. Should machine to machine security and person to machine security be looked at differently?

Wood: There may be differences in the physical security measures. But, other than that, we should not make assumptions about whether the malicious infiltration is by a person or a machine. The massive growth in wireless devices, many of them directly or indirectly connected to the grid, dramatically increases the potential entry points through which malicious elements (rogue machines, malicious code, or persons) access the grid. The threat of massive denial of service attacks will increase. Harmful code can propagate to numerous entry points, making the defense against such harmful code difficult. These entry points will also make difficult the eventual cleanup of the harmful code. Each of these entry points should be monitored and protected against malicious machine as well as human access. In addition, the network perimeters around the critical infrastructure should ideally be protected in a layered manner. The critical systems themselves may be protected by restricting the entry points and implementing stringent access monitoring. These systems may also be protected by taking additional steps that may be necessary to protect the particular control systems.

Karisny: We are beyond media hype with the recent cyber security attacks. What should be our immediate response strategy be to these cyber breaches as it relates to your focus in our nation’s critical infrastructure.

Wood: Clearly we need to use the full force of our laws to track down and punish cyber criminals who attack our critical infrastructure. We also need to close the technical holes through which these attacks happen. In the short term, perhaps steps such as physically separating critical infrastructure networks may be part of the answer. However, in the long term, and from an efficiency standpoint, we want enhanced interconnectivity. In order to maintain this extensive interconnectivity we must have adequate monitoring, along with systems and strategies to protect, detect, and defend with respect to cyber threats.

Karisny:. You are based in the Washington, D.C., Metro area. Is DC listening as it relates to cyber attacks and if you could get your message all the way to the top, what would it be?

Wood: Washington already recognizes the urgent need for effective cybersecurity. But we must more efficiently harness American ingenuity to address the challenges we are facing in defending our critical infrastructure, especially the power grid, from cyber threats. One of the best ways to ensure proper ingenuity is focused on cybersecurity is to facilitate the protection of IP rights so that innovators can be rewarded for their work in this area.

Theodore Wood is a key member of the firm's Grid Industry Group, where he focuses on helping innovators involved with ensuring power grid resiliency in an evolving smart grid infrastructure. Wood's work before the United States Patent and Trademark Office includes patent application preparation and prosecution, reissue, reexamination, and appeals before the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences. He has served the role of virtual in-house IP counsel for several high technology emerging companies, where he developed programs to identify, protect, manage and commercialize IP assets. Wood has worked on intellectual property matters involving many technologies, including electronics, computer graphics, computer architecture, networks, and network protocols, telecommunications networks, wireless communication systems, e-commerce and Internet applications, GPS location-based services, intelligent vehicle systems, automotive systems, and medical devices.

Larry Karisny is the Director of Project , a smart grid security consultant, writer and industry speaker focusing on security solutions for the smart grid and critical infrastructure.


Cyber Wars Start, is the Power Grid Next?

Smart Grid Security

August 4, 2011 By Larry Karisny

Recent reports have clearly demonstrated that cyber wars are real and happening. So what are the implications and when are people going to at last take notice? Forbes reported recent attacks included an unprecedented series of cyber attacks on the networks of 72 organizations globally -- including the United Nations, governments and corporations -- over a five-year period. The White House as of yet has not disclosed the organizations effected by this most recent attack dubbed "Operation Shady RAT."

So what are people who live, eat and breathe this stuff every day saying? I am part of a group that has been discussing this in a Smart Grid Security group headlined, "The next Pearl Harbor we confront could very well be a cyber attack that cripples our power systems, our grid, our security systems, our financial systems, our governmental systems." The discussion started 14 days ago and with the recent events I thought some of the comments are very appropriate and I would like to share them.

Theodore Wood, Partner and Patent Lawyer at Sterne Kessler Goldstein & Fox
"I believe we have to direct more of our immediate attention and grid-related stimulus spending toward enhancing the resiliency of the existing grid. William Pentland’s article in Forbes this past May, discusses his finding that about 75 percent of the 2009 federal stimulus dollars have been directed to advanced metering infrastructure (AMI). Our own research and analysis of IP in these areas supports this contention. However, in order to have a more direct impact on grid security, we need more direct investment in cyber resiliency strategies (hardware and software), including things such as strong encryption and key management techniques, network access control, intrusion response systems, rootkit detection, etc. I believe that an infusion of federal spending into these areas will spur R&D, facilitate development of quality IP, and help ensure that cyber security innovation and technology are more commercially attractive from both the vendors' and investors' perspectives."

Andrew Wright, CTO at N-Dimension Solutions

“I agree with Ted regarding the need for more economic stimulus for grid resiliency and cyber security. Of the $4.3 billion ARRA funding, most of it went to smart meters, MDMs [Meter Data Management], and consultants, and relatively little to real security. And in any case, that was 100 out of 3,300 utilities in the U.S. We need to change the economic equation so that utilities do not have to prioritize security against other technologies, and the best way to do that is to build security in. But that needs economic incentives for manufacturers to spend time on security functions rather than others. IP protections for grid resiliency is one way to do this.”

Joe Weiss, Managing Partner at Applied Control Solutions, LLC
"As an engineer, there is no doubt it is technically possible to do this -- I am not a threat analyst and so cannot say why it has or has not happened. Stuxnet should be a glaring example of its potential. I had this specific discussion with Richard Clarke many years ago and provided several reasons why it could happen and yet not be public. There are minimal control system cyber forensics so when there have been major infrastructure failures, it is generally not possible to determine if cyber was involved. There already have been numerous significant control system cyber incidents in the U.S. that have killed people, caused major electric outages, shut down nuclear plants, etc. When a critical infrastructure incident does occur, there is a reticence by the government to acknowledge it is a cyber incident. I believe the lack of control system cyber forensics and end-users unwillingness to report has stifled progress on securing industrial control systems."

Stacy Bresler at National Electric Sector Cybersecurity Organization

“Reporting cyber incidents or potential incidents is an issue. Being a former cyber security manager at a large asset owner, I understand the lack of willingness to report. Currently the mandate to report a cyber incident is to the ES-ISAC which is essentially the regulator despite claims of dividing lines within their organization. That alone is a deterrent for more reporting. I'm with Joe on this ... I don't think our intelligence agencies always have the facts put together before they make blanket statements. We do need better tools to help in forensic efforts but that needs to be coupled with proper training for those in the field. There are forensic experts out there and I believe ICS-CERT has a jump team on the ready ... but I don't think that is enough. We definitely do not have an aggregated view of what is really going on and we can't manage what we can't measure!"

Robert Cragie Consultant for HAN/Smart Energy/Security at Pacific Gas & Electric
"The 80/20 rule applies here. With a relatively small amount of effort you would get a huge improvement in security. ICS manufacturers and implementers have to wake up to the fact that their ancient systems need to be brought up-to-date using security procedures (business process, physical and cyber) commonplace in IT and telecoms infrastructures. The INL SCADA evaluation report highlights the woeful lack of security in electricity T&D substations, e.g. adding dial-up modems with no cyber security protection to substation equipment still using default passwords so a maintenance operator can control remotely. Stuxnet was clever but still propagated by the practice of passing USB flash drives around with the virus on. Back in the day, it was floppy disks which spread viruses in this way. Do we never learn?"

This is what the people who work on these issues are seeing. There is always some hype but there is also some things that are not disclosed. From simple fixes to a clear need to invest into new cyber security solutions, the war is on and the war is real. God bless our military and their efforts in securing our country but if our national power grid goes down our losses could be much greater.

Larry Karisny is the Director of Project, smart grid security consultant, writer and industry speaker focusing on security solutions for the smart grid and critical infrastructure. Reprint courtesy of MuniWireless


Smart-Grid Security, A Trillion-Dollar Boom or Bust

Smart Grids

May 12, 2011 By Larry Karisny

In watching smart-grid deployments early on I always wondered when the smart-grid security flashing red light bulb was going to go on. Andy Bochman is an IBM security lead who hates security fear mongering but even he couldn't deny the facts about a series of power-grid security breaches this spring in a recent blog post. And when U.S. senators like Richard Burr start calling to slow down the implementation of smart-grid technology you know there's a problem. I appreciate the recognition and concerns of power-grid security issues but just stopping the smart grid isn't an answer or even an option. We need to understand that even current legacy power-grid networks have serious security flaws. In fact the only way to protect these current legacy-grid designs from security breaches is to give these power-grid components visibility through secure interactive network intelligence (the smart grid). So like it or not we need to use these new smart-grid technologies to add security even on our current power grids.

The Threat Recognized

When I fear monger I like quoting the greatest fear monger of them all, Richard Clarke. In his book, Cyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It, he warns of both present day legacy power-grid vulnerabilities and future cyber attacks on the grid. From gas pipelines exploding to blinding the greatest military power in the world, Clarke defines just how catastrophic it would be to have a national power outage. A Wired article earlier quoted Matthew Carpenter, senior security analyst of InGuardian as saying: “The cost factor here is what’s turned on its head. We lose control of our grid, that’s far worse than a botnet taking over my home PC.” It's not like we are losing a few family pictures. In fact there are reports that if we have a national power outage, by day eight we could lose as much as 30 percent of our GNP.

Hurry Up, Wait, and Hurry Up Again

So what happened and why are we just now recognizing power-grid security problems? Well, it's the old story: hurry up and wait and hurry up again. We were in a hurry to gain the saving benefits of the smart grid so we start building it and putting security on the back burner. We then validated some security vulnerabilities and recognized that these potential security breaches in the power grid could be catastrophic. So we put a road map together for what we need to do to fix these security problems -- even for legacy and existing smart-grid networks already staged or deployed. So why will they do something now? Because, if we don't get security in the smart grid -- and fast -- we will lose a lot of money.

A Trillion Here a Trillion There

In my article "Will Security Start or Stop the Smart Grid?" I warned that if we did not address security first it could bring smart-grid deployment and investment to a halt. So how important is this and how much money are we talking about? First let's put the smart grid into perspective in both investment and return on investment. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) estimated the costs for a fully developed smart grid could reach $476 billion with benefits up to $2 trillion. These dollar amounts are no small potatoes and could affect global competitiveness. CleanTechGrid lists hundreds of companies with thousands of employees that are currently working in the smart-grid industry. With job creation and energy savings like this we can't just stop building the smart grid. IBM gets it and predicts one trillion devices connected by 2015.

The smart grid is just one part of this massive marketplace. From smartphones, ATMs, retail kiosks, traffic systems, meters, buildings to sensors -- all these devices will be connected to local wireless IP infrastructure and all will need security. With network infrastructure like Florida Power and Light FiberNet already in place, power companies could be the anchor tenant and supplier that municipal wireless networks have been looking for. The smart grid is the beginning of more intelligent wireless applications and we can't afford to stop it now.

The Road Map is Done

NIST has recently refined some guidelines as they pertain to smart-grid security. A recent NIST Tech Beat release, "Smart Grid Panel Agrees on Standards for Wireless Communication, Meter Upgrades" lists a series of “Priority Action Plans,” or PAPs. PAP 2’s goal is to specify wireless technology performance that is "grid-worthy." These seem to be realistic goals and requirements and at last puts smart-grid vendors on notice that they need to fill important gaps to assure the interoperability, reliability and security of smart-grid components. Security is no longer just an afterthought. It needs to be an integral part of smart-grid solutions and must be deployed in every step along the way.

The Solution

To get us back on track we need solutions that offer grid-worthy security that can be economically and rapidly deployed. This solution has to be vendor-agnostic and capable of working with both legacy and new grid networks. This security must also be able to work with multi-protocol hybrid network combinations. Last but not least, these security technologies need to be fast, have low overhead and be scalable. Seems like a tough request but again and again, I see the smart grid and many edge device security requirements point toward layer 2 security. A recent paper by the Grid-Interop Forum called "Interoperability and Security for Converged Smart Grid Networks" highlights these unique layer 2 security capabilities that were approved by NIST for federal systems and explains how useful these same capabilities could be in securing the smart grid. With a lot of money on the line and a lot of pressure to rapidly get the smart grid secured and up and running, we are left with few other alternatives. We need to start testing and investing in these layer 2 security solutions and get them deployed on the power grid. We can't afford not to.

Reprint courtesy of MuniWireless. Larry Karisny is the director of Project, consultant, writer and industry speaker focusing on security solutions for public and private wireless broadband networks. Next speaking engagement, Smart Gird Virtual Summit June 29th-30th, "Securing the Emerging Smart Grid: A Panel Discussion."

Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami, Spread and Secure the Grid

Power Grid

March 16, 2011 By Larry Karisny

In a recent smart-grid summit at the Miami Beach Convention Center, the power went out right in the middle of a smart-grid security-panel discussion between Southern Power, Cisco and Atmel when the lights dimmed falling back to alternative power. To the audience, it was just a minor inconvenience. Florida after a hurricane is another matter, and Japan is now facing catastrophic events with the recent earthquake, tsunami and radiation leakage from the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

With Japan in mind, we need to further define the importance of smart grids, their design and their security requirements. As seen, the potential lose of power though natural or man-made causes can range from an inconvenience to a global catastrophe.

First and foremost the loss of life and the continued suffering of the Japanese nation is recognized and requires immediate global attention and support. We also need to learn from events as they relate to the policies and technology of global smart-grid initiatives.

A recent article by Christine Hertzog , Catastrophe and Grid Resiliency reported that the regional utility, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) instituted rolling blackouts to address a 25 percent shortfall in generation capacity. This statistic alone clearly defines how centralized power and distribution (nuclear or not) are potentially big problems when destroyed by natural or man-made catastrophic events.

The results of centralized power production, transmission and distribution combined with limited power grid network intelligence is being clearly demonstrated in Japan. Another article in intelligentutility, Smart Grid More Attractive, Post-Japan noted if smart grid demand-response plans were in place, the utility (Tepco) could have avoided cutting power to Tokyo's rail service, which apparently compounded the national sense of confusion and resulting economic fallout.

This same lack of grid intelligence is responsible for many costly power outages. A study conducted by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) researchers Kristina Hamachi-LaCommare and Joe Eto for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Electric Transmission and Distribution estimates that electric power outages and blackouts cost the U.S. about $80 billion annually. The need for grid intelligence and a more resilient and intelligent power-grid infrastructure is clear.

Although natural disasters offer chilling examples of power infrastructure devastation they really are not the biggest threat to our global power infrastructures. Limited power-grid security combined with centralized power production and distribution would cause massive outages if breached. These little publicized breaches have occurred globally and are becoming more of a concern in both existing legacy-grid networks and new smart-grid network designs.

A recent InfoSec Island article, Scientists Decry Cyberwar as Governments Respond by Dan Dieterle clearly reported the concerns of cyber attacks on our power grid quoting the concerns of high-level government officials and scientists. There is little doubt in the article about the potential of a power grid breach. The question is how to defend against an attack.

Both grid security and resiliency need to be built in all current production, transmission, distribution and demand grid sectors. We can accomplish this by designing power production sources with secure and interoperable micro grids that can support both existing and upcoming alternative power sources. Power production differs depending on what the source of power and cannot always be decentralized. A good example is Hydro One harnessing the power of Niagara Falls. There is no one size fits all when designing power requirements for a region but now is the time to recognize the importance of properly building more diverse and secure smart-grid topologies. The modern smart grid is designed to become more reliable, safe and secure. It is these very attributes that Japan needs today. As we support this great nation in their difficult time and address this terrible disaster, let’s also use this opportunity to reflect on building a smart-grid infrastructure that will securely serve our needs today and for many years to come.


February 10, 2011

The Show Must Go On: Larry Karisny Partakes and Presents at Smart Grid Summit in Miami


As TMC Smart Grid Contributor and founder of Intelligent Communications Partners, Jon Arnold (News - Alert), recapped from the recent Smart Grid Summit, “Leading the cybersecurity session was all-around good guy Larry Karisny of WirelessWall, along with speakers Tony Flick of FYRM Associates and Christopher Gorog of Atmel (News - Alert) Corp. Karisny has a strong background in this space, and cited extensive sources to document the threats, all of which were reinforced by Flick and Gorog’s technical expertise.”

Story continues below ↓

Karisny began his presentation, “How to Build Security with Intelligence,” and quoted a number of Smart Grid industry leaders including Vint Serf, the “Godfather of the Internet,” as well as Kim Zetter and Bob Lockhart, to name a few. Karisny from that point on took the Smart Grid Summit by storm, a highlighted speaker and moderator displaying his extensive knowledge of the smart grid industry.

Keeping newcomers to the Summit and fresh faces to the industry in mind, Karisny simplified the understanding of smart grid as a lot of networks, or a bunch of small clouds that are connected; however, this needs to be done on a layer basis. “Smart Grid is not your typical telco network; it is much more complex,” Karisny said.

As TMC’s (News - Alert) onsite editor, Stefanie Mosca, reported live from the show, all in all, Karisny left the audience with a number of suggestions on how to tackle smart grid security issues as they come, as well as offered proactive advice in targeting the security problems before they actually begin. Karisny highlighted that it is important to address the most crucial security issues first and using high-end, yet simple security solutions to do so.

Karisny admitted recently in an article that “To get the most out of an industry convention summit, be a moderator, speaker and audience participant. I had that opportunity at the Smart-Grid Summit in Miami Beach last week. While stranded visitors from the north enjoyed highs of 81 in Miami Beach, the summit proved to be one of the most informative smart-grid discussions ever.” And as Jon Arnold recognized, Karisny was all three – moderator, speaker and audience – helping to execute the Summit with so many stranded participants.

With all present parties pulling together, discussion such as building a strong grid foundation; power transmission and distribution; the growing voice of the customer; smart home killer apps, rural smart-grid opportunities, electric vehicles and public vs. private smart-grid networks continued with immense success.

Jaclyn Allard is a TMCnet copy editor. She most recently worked on the production team at Juran Institute, a quality consulting firm producing its own training and marketing materials. Previously, she interned at Curbstone Press, a nonprofit publishing press in Willimantic, CT, and fulfilled the role of Editor-in-Chief for the literature and arts journal published by the University of Connecticut. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Jaclyn Allard


Smart Grid Security: Generally Speaking, the World Doesn't End

January 24, 2011 By Larry Karisny

An interview with Andy Bochman, energy security lead IBM Software Group/Rational, and editor of the Smart Grid Security Blog. Article courtesy of MuniWireless.

Karisny: There was a recent article in SearchSecurity titled, “IBM predicts rising mobile threats, critical infrastructure attacks in 2011." Are you sharing the same feelings of when, not if, it comes as it relates to a major breach of our electrical power grid?

Bochman: My focus in the last several years has been almost exclusively on critical electrical infrastructure, to include the current grid as well as the few dozen spots where the emerging smart grid is starting to show itself. The grid is so large and so complex that it doesn't take a Nostradamus to predict successful attacks on it in any coming year, especially as one of the primary enablers of new smart grid functionality involves massively interconnecting systems that were previously protected, at least in part, by their isolation.

2010 saw a very single-minded Stuxnet penetrate, but not disrupt, many enterprises with industrial equipment, including the military and utilities. More broadly aimed variants of Stuxnet may in the works, or in the wild already. But I don't necessary forecast extraordinary trouble, as the promulgation of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) doesn't help anyone. Some security professionals like to put folks into fetal positions with scare stories. But I prefer to remember what my broker tells his clients during downturns, "generally speaking, the world doesn't end."

Karisny: We have seen a multitude if IEEE standards, different directions NIST, FERC and NERC, and organizations like Grid Net and GridWise Alliance positioning for the multi-billion dollar power grid security market. With all this posturing does there seem to be any agreed-upon direction as to security models suitable for what you earlier called in a Huffington Post article CIP or critical infrastructure protection?

Bochman: I'd say that even though it's only a set of high-level guidelines, the embryonic NISTIR 7628 has the broadest fan base so far. I could be very wrong, but my sense is the NERC CIPs won't be with us for the long run. No one seems to value them. We're waiting for practical implementation guides from the NIST CSWG teams in 2011 before state PUCs and other U.S. and international grid security standards groups can point to 7628 as something approaching implementation-ready. As for enforceable standards, well, that's the GAO's primary complaint re: FERC. And FERC can't fix that -- only Congress can.

Karisny: There were big mistakes early on with smart meters security and now even questionable security in using ZigBee wireless network for the home Area Network (HAN). What was done wrong and how can we move forward on securing the demand side part of the smart grid?

Bochman: As the smart meter article noted, "Prominently missing are signed and encrypted firmware, secure (smart card) chips for key storage, unique cryptographic keys, and physical tamper protection." These omissions (and others) were symptomatic of the root cause: a rush to deploy ahead of firm best practices, security standards and business models. Some security pros may question my response, but I'd say we need to slow down a bit, breathe, review what we've done so far and check for gaps, before locking in standards, encouraging vendors to build to those standards, and encouraging utilities to deploy Smart Grid components in significant numbers. And yes, with millions of Smart Meters already out there, I realize this is a somewhat belated point!

Karisny: With all the complexity in security do you see any simple and economical solutions available?

Bochman: Not really. While the impulse to simplify is a good and desirable one from a business point of view, I'm afraid we're going to have to meet the complexity of the smart grid with complex security solutions. That said, some tried and true security tenets bear repeating:

  • Defense in depth
  • Least privilege
  • Need to know

And this: in case those three don't work every time - have plans B, C and D tested and ready

Karisny: Is there some kind of new solution that can be started with migration paths to future security solutions?

Bochman: Sure, though it's clear that many "future proofed" solutions bring with them added risk. Let's say you want to make your smart meter (or any other smart grid device) software remotely upgradeable so you can add additional functionality or fix security problems on the fly and en masse. Remote control functionality always opens additional pathways for attackers, should they be clever enough to subvert whatever controls (or their lack) to prevent unauthorized access and use. For practical reasons, though, upgrade-able software and firmware is the only game in town, as fully manual updates to hundreds of thousands or millions of devices at a time would take a small army many months or years to accomplish.

Karisny: With all the guide line direction being given by a variety of organizations, is here any place to prove out these security solutions in an actual field test settings?

Bochman: Sure, and it's happening right now, in dozens of pilot deployments already under way, with many more slated to begin in 2011 and 2012. In addition, several universities (see: the Trustworthy Cyber Infrastructure for the Power Grid (TCIPG)) and DOE national labs like PNNL, INL and Sandia are doing substantial research involving security, often using test beds that simulate field conditions.

Karisny: With threats now of fines and security assessments taking place, do you see power companies getting serious about grid security in 2011?

Bochman: This is a tough question to answer without a qualification first. If you equate heightened NERC CIP compliance activities with "getting serious about security," then the answer is yes. However, one of the primary critiques of the CIPs as currently constituted in version 3 is that they are less than tightly aligned with the goal of making utilities demonstrably more secure against cyber threats. Some utilities complain that CIP compliance activities divert human and financial resources that could have been used to improve their organization's actual security posture. Some say the CIPs have increased security awareness and are helping. The ground truth is likely that both are right.

Karisny: You have early on spoken in smart grid panels and have been a key speaker in various smart grid conferences. Is there any underlying security issue you have come away with when participation in these events and what are you upcoming speaking engagements?

Bochman: For me, the number one takeaway from the 2010 conferences was complexity. Trying to get our arms around the very many pieces of smart grid security challenge, including old and new technology, evolving business models, standards and guidelines, workforce awareness and training, the shifting threat landscape, recovery and survivability strategies ... it's just a heck of a lot to hold in main memory. But without consideration and attention given to all these things, you're not really doing the job.

I'll be a panelist at the Jan 31 FERC Technical Conference on the Smart Grid Interoperability and Security Standards. Will also speak at a few conferences over the next several months. Right now those likely include:

  • Smart Grid Security East
  • GTM's Networked Grid 2011
  • Gartner Security & Risk Management 2011
  • CleanTech 2011
Karisny: You have the most popular blog as it relates to smart grid security. What are you hearing from those who following your blog?

Bochman: Mostly a hunger for more and better knowledge, especially among folks who are new to the domain. That includes cyber security pros who want or need to learn more about the electric sector, and utility personnel who need to get smarter on security issues and approaches. The blog exists to serve the community by facilitating knowledge transfer and letting folks know about upcoming events like new legislation, standards, conferences, best practices and lessons learned, etc. And so far, according to the feedback I get from (usually) happy readers, it seems to be working pretty well.

Karisny: What are your 2011 forecast in critical infrastructure protection deployments and research throughout the year?

Bochman: With so many balls in motion, it promises to be a thoroughly exciting and challenging year in the smart grid security space. At IBM, we're putting the finishing touches on a white paper that considers the current and possible future of smart grid security standards. When that's done, I plan to help advance work begun last year on EV and V2G security. We've been getting a lot of questions on that topic the last few quarters and that may very well become a 2011 white paper as well.
Who Owns Smart-Grid Security?

December 8, 2010 By Larry Karisny

Bob Lockhart is an industry analyst with Pike Research, which just released a study of smart-grid security. This article courtesy of Muniwireless.

Q: Who do you see as the responsible party for securing the grid; power companies, third-party security vendors or government entities?

Lockhart: In countries where the power grid is a government monopoly it’s pretty straightforward. In the USA however, there is no responsible party for securing the grid. Lots of organizations have a say but no one “owns” security of the smart grid. Some have tried to put NERC in that role but NERC’s remit covers generation and transmission. Most of what constitutes the smart grid happens in distribution, which today is outside NERC’s scope.

NIST has published some very good standards for Smart Grid security including the recent NISTIR 7628 series but they remain only standards. The Bulk Electric System has nothing analogous to HIPAA for health care information or PCI DSS for payment card processing. Compounding the issue, there is a fair amount of personally identifiable information (PII) flowing through smart-grid management systems. That PII comes under the jurisdiction of personal data privacy laws, but we have no national privacy legislation -- each state has its own laws.

Q: Where are we today when it comes to securely adding intelligent infrastructure to our utility and power grids?

Lockhart: Behind and losing ground. As with nearly every technology, the focus in smart grids has been to get it working, then later realize that security is an issue. Two dynamics make this even worse: first many security providers have equated smart grid with smart metering, ignoring the major innovations necessary in distribution automation and substations. Second, there has been precious little attention paid to security of industrial control systems (ICS), such as SCADA, some of which are so old that they are still analog. Since most information security experts have an IT background they do not understand that IT security solutions may not work and may actually disrupt an ICS network.

Q: With billions already awarded in federal grants and billions more put in by the power companies, where are all the smart grid projects?

Lockhart: In my analysis I only looked at smart grid cyber security projects of which there are precious few being funded by ARRA, though there are some. In the case of cyber security it is often difficult to credibly forecast an ROI -- after all an effective security program is one that you never see. So given funds to invest and an enterprise’s need to justify the investment via some measurable return, many are going to minimize security spending unless it’s necessary to comply with a regulation such as NERC CIP.

Q: What is the best start for securing the grid network infrastructure today? Is it just a process of add as you go?

Lockhart: It’s the same as securing any other environment. You start with an assessment of risks against most valuable assets and prioritize security investment based upon the results of that assessment. Some of the quantitative risk assessment methods can take years to reach completion and are not realistic for the current situation but there are qualitative techniques that yield useful analysis in a relatively short time. The keys to success are getting a complete asset list and fully understanding risks to each. Again there can be problems if no one involved in the assessment truly understands industrial control systems.

So it’s not really possible to say, for example, that every utility should immediately upgrade its identity management capability or deploy security event management. Each situation will be unique and requires someone to seriously think about what is at risk and what needs to be done.

Q: Some people are saying we should be addressing the transmission and distribution side of the grid first before the demand side. What do you think about that as it relates to security?

Lockhart: Well ideally security would be integrated as part of whatever smart- grid projects are undertaken by a utility. If it’s smart metering, then securing consumer data and resiliency in the networks should be part of the project. Those are much more expensive to bolt on later. Likewise if it’s updates to the distribution grid, maybe smarter transformers, then secure communications and other measures should be built into those projects as well. So the ideal situation is that security rides along with smart grid projects as undertaken by the utility. When that doesn’t happen, then you have to go back to the security risk assessment discussed above, and address the risks as prioritized, maybe taking some low hanging fruit early on -- simple measures that can be implemented quickly and with little expense. Early success in a security program can bolster it immensely within an enterprise.

One area of security that gets too little attention in smart grids is employee awareness. It is critical for employees of utilities, systems integrators and other involved entities to understand what security is implemented, why it is there, and their responsibilities to support it. This requires a proactive education program. Whether we’re talking e-mails, Web courses, or stand-up instruction matters less than that the points are gotten across to the workforce.

Q: Is here a one-size-fits-all security approach or is layer security going to be the rule of thumb for the grid?

Lockhart: Again, countries with a government monopoly grid can take a one-size-fits-all approach. On the down side for them, that implies that a single attack against their entire national grid could be successful and there is probably a single point of attack for that grid. Here in the USA we have over 3,200 utilities -- some with millions of customers, others with a few thousand. So obviously they are not going to all be running on the same infrastructure and therefore the same security approaches will not work for all. It is not unthinkable that some smaller utilities will end up clients of service providers running cloud computing environments. Those will probably be private clouds, but still a centralized, third-party cloud. Personally I think that’s a good thing because small enterprises cannot afford as sophisticated security as a large-scale integrator of clouds will implement.

In either case layered security or defense-in-depth will be the preferred solution. In my studies and work with clients I’ve been emphasizing not only the need for well-known network and endpoint security controls but also that networks need to be resilient. Whether we’re talking smart metering or ICS, endpoints and central systems need to be able to survive several days or maybe weeks out of contact with each other.

Q: Are there already lessons learned from mistakes and some solutions found?

Lockhart: What I’ve seen is more an evolution of increased protection rather than a grand disaster followed by a step change in the level of smart-grid security. There is still quite a bit of disunity among the smart-grid community as to how bad things are or are not. That suggests to me that nothing truly terrible has happened to galvanize the industry. In my research when I ask how bad things are, answers range from no problems at all to critical.

But most of the lessons learned that I’ve seen are straightforward: better ways to identify and prevent fraud, nearly everyone understands the importance of encryption, and there is a slowly dawning awareness that the security-by-obscurity approach that protects most SCADA deployments is not going to be effective. But I do see more targeted point solutions than overarching grid-security programs.

Q: Is Stuxnet the warning shot of more cyber attacks and just how bad could thins get as it relate to our power grid?

Lockhart: Slammer and Blaster, each 7-8 years ago, should have been warning enough -- even if they were not directly aimed at grids. I recently blogged Stuxnet and I think the security community has its head in the sand. If my analysis is correct then Stuxnet was developed late in 2007 or early in 2008. We security experts call Stuxnet state-of-the-art because we arrogantly think we know everything that’s happening, but we don’t. The Stuxnet code and attack could be three years old -- that’s two iterations of Moore’s Law. If true, then things probably have already gotten much worse than we understand. We’re just blissfully ignorant of how bad.

Q: In summary, where we are today as it relates to the smart grid? Where do we need to be in a fast track short-term solution and what do you think the future of smart-grid security will look like?

Lockhart: If Stuxnet is any indication, then the serious attackers are way ahead of us and can pretty much operate with impunity. Less sophisticated attackers may be able to hold a grid to ransom if it is not well protected. Some security vendors seem focused on finding problems that suit their existing offerings rather than seeking how to protect our grids, although there are some exceptions. One utility complained to me, “If one more security vendor walks into my office and asks me what keeps me awake at night…”

Here in the USA our patchwork grid may protect us for some time to come. I’ve asked several utilities and smart-grid experts if an attack could wipe the entire U.S. electrical grid. The common answer has been something like, “If only we were actually that well integrated. But no.” Still, any one grid could be successfully attacked so no one can really rest.

It’s hard to prioritize remedies outside the context of a risk assessment, and that’s going to be unique for each utility. But if I had to prioritize anything in general I’d look at better resiliency throughout networks -- both IT and ICS. And I would like to see IT and operations staffs at utilities work together more effectively. I can’t see any other way to get a whole-picture view of the grids and what really needs to be done.

Unfortunately we may see continued selling of point solutions for quite some time to come. There are people taking a holistic view of smart-grid security, including some utilities’ chief security officers, systems integrators, and even some of the smart-meter manufacturers with their bundled solutions. However there is quite a bit of point selling going on out there. Utilities expect a meter -- smart or otherwise -- to have a service life of 20 years. What is going to happen in smart metering when that expectation collides with Moore’s Law? Certainly that could drive another round of point-solution selling.