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7/18/2008
04:41 PM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme
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Utilities Ready To Put IT Security Efforts In Place

The North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) announced this week that it's improving its ability to better manage IT security and critical infrastructure protection efforts to North America's bulk power system.

The North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) announced this week that it's improving its ability to better manage IT security and critical infrastructure protection efforts to North America's bulk power system.This announcement is none too soon, either, considering how harshly the GAO slapped the Tennessee Valley Authority for weak IT security.

The measures below follow the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) adoption of reliability standards for IT security. These are from a NERC press release issued earlier this week:

Increasing NERC Expertise on Critical Infrastructure Protection and Cyber Security -- NERC will formally establish the Critical Infrastructure Protection program as one of NERC's program functions, alongside existing standards development, compliance and enforcement, and reliability assessment program areas. The establishment of this program will include the staffing of a Chief Security Officer position, who will serve as the single point of contact for the industry, the ESSG, and government regulators and stakeholders seeking to communicate with NERC on cyber and infrastructure security matters.

The appointment of a CSO is certainly good news, let's hope the position is more than simply a "single point of contact for the industry," and has some real authority. A CSO without any enforcement clout is little more than a figure-head.

Consider Alternative Standard Setting Process for Cyber Security Standards -- NERC will establish a task force to review, and where appropriate recommend, a standard-setting process for cybersecurity that will include an emergency/crisis standards setting process. This process must provide a level of due process and technical review, but also provide the speed necessary to establish standards quickly and respond seamlessly to government agencies in the U.S. and Canada.

Expedited Review of Existing Cyber Standards -- Working through the Standards Committee, NERC also seeks to accelerate the comprehensive review of its eight existing critical infrastructure protection standards to fully incorporate the directives from FERC, including the consideration of the extent to which elements of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) standards should be incorporated therein or within new standards.

This already should be completed. The FERC standards outline what most Global 2000 companies already have in place:

* Critical Cyber Asset Identification; * Security Management Controls; * Personnel and Training; * Electronic Security Perimeters; * Physical Security of Critical Cyber Assets; * Systems Security Management; * Incident Reporting and Response Planning; and * Recovery Plans for Critical Cyber Assets.

Facilitate Joint Collaboration on Cyber Security -- NERC, working with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in the U.S. and relevant governmental authorities in Canada, will organize a briefing for the ESSG, the NERC CEO, and senior level utility executives across all stakeholder groups on cyber security threats.

I'm having a tough time finding many holes in NERC's initiatives. That means it must be Friday afternoon :-). Except the industry should have been putting these standards in place about a decade ago, when it already had become crystal-clear that the bulk power generating and transmission infrastructure would be networked using off-the-shelf IT equipment.

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