Securing IoT in the Smart Grid

As IoT and cloud technologies become more prevalent, security management for the utility industry is shifting toward finding an end-to-end approach for both IT and operations technology (OT).

Photo: Intel

In the last year, concerns over the ability of hackers to gain access into power grid software—and possibly disrupt the electrical supply system of regions or entire cities—are escalating. Each additional IoT device added to a utility grid is a potential entry point for a network attack by insiders, hackers or criminals. A report from Cisco indicates that although utilities have better security than other industries, they also experience more breaches. The report noted that 73 percent of security professionals at utilities say they have suffered a publicly disclosed security breach, compared with 55 percent in other industries.

IoT devices are adding to the anxiety level for security professionals, as IoT sensors and devices that constantly send data through the grid are the relative newcomers on the block. According to a survey from Global Market Insite (GMI), 78 percent of IT security professionals are “either unsure about their capabilities (with IoT) or believe they lack the visibility and management required to secure new kinds of network-connected devices.” And the SANS Institute reports that 46 percent of IT security professionals do not believe that their current policies apply to IoT devices and provide visibility into those devices.

Team IT and OT

So how are utility companies approaching IoT security? As IoT and cloud technologies become more prevalent, security management for the utility industry is shifting toward finding an end-to-end approach for both IT and operations technology (OT). IT and OT must manage together the security of a widely dispersed system with both wired and wireless connectivity. Connecting OT systems to the IT network increases the value of existing IT security investments and policies.

According to a Cisco security white paper, a comprehensive IoT security framework needs to:

● Provide visibility into applications, users, protocols and anomalies.

● Allow critical systems to continue operating even when under attack.

● Simplify compliance with industry or government regulations.

● Scale cost-effectively to accommodate more IoT devices or more data.

● Increase situational awareness and accelerate incident response. Situational awareness requires a combination of video surveillance, identification of people and devices, and collection and analysis of telemetry and logs.

The importance of having these physical security tools and video surveillance was demonstrated in 2015, when thieves penetrated a perimeter fence at a PG&E substation in San Jose, CA, and made off with several pieces of construction equipment. That theft came despite PG&E's launch of a $100 million upgrade of its security systems at an unspecified number of critical electricity substations in the company's territory. PG&E later noted that "human error" allowed the thieves to succeed. Intruder detection alarms at the site sent signals to PG&E's security operations but “were not appropriately addressed," according to a company news release.

The IoT-Enabled Landscape

To tackle these types of security challenges, utilities need an approach that simplifies compliance efforts, bridges IT and OT, integrates the ecosystem and supports the organization with a scalable network infrastructure. Once the technology ecosystem is secured end-to-end, utilities then can better trust, understand and act upon the data they collect from across the IoT-enabled landscape.

SmartGrid Intelligent utility systems

Photo: Intel

One means for gaining security and control is the Cisco IoT System Security, which includes a portfolio of ruggedized systems for industrial networks. With these products, security is added directly into the network infrastructure, so the IoT network can be used as a security sensor and enforcer. The Cisco product portfolio addresses cyber security, physical security and fog-to-cloud, enabling services that together can generate predictable business outcomes.

Cisco IoT System Security directly integrates IT technologies into the OT infrastructure, using a team of switches, routers and appliances. Intel® processors power the solution with virtualization, security and cryptography features, and fog computing capabilities that push analytics and security to the edges of the network.

Your Job: Securing the Grid