Feds Issue Smart Grid Cybersecurity Guidelines

Stuxnet served to catalyze concerns about smart grid security, which the 537-page "Guidelines for Smart Grid Cyber Security" strives to address by providing security requirements and a risk assessment framework.

J. Nicholas Hoover, Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

September 3, 2010

3 Min Read

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As part of the billions the federal government is spending to push the nation from its current aging electrical grid and infrastructure toward a smart grid, the National Institute of Standards and Technology released Thursday a series of guidelines for smart grid cybersecurity. The recommendations, which come in a three-volume guide (totaling a whopping 537 pages) titled Guidelines for Smart Grid Cyber Security, come as concerns about the vulnerability of the nation's electrical grid have been on the rise.

Congress acted early to address concerns about the smart grid, in 2007 assigning NIST to develop a framework for secure, interoperable smart grid technology, and the new NIST report was produced over 17 months by a 450-member working group, going through several public drafts along the way.

However, in July, Siemens warned its customers about Stuxnet, sophisticated malware that targets Siemens WinCC, industrial control software popular in the utility sector and other industries, via a Microsoft Windows vulnerability. While tools and patches are now available for the Trojan, it infected at least a dozen systems worldwide and represents what Symantec has said is the first publicly-known rootkit to specifically target industrial control systems. The news of that attack compounds concerns raised by earlier reports in the Wall Street Journal that foreign cyber-spies had already infiltrated the U.S. electrical grid and research by IOActive that demonstrated critical flaws in smart grid infrastructure. It also underscores the urgency of a robust strategy and guidelines for mitigating vulnerabilities in and attacks against the smart grid.

"If we are to truly modernize our electrical grid, we must have electricity producers, distributors and consumers all speaking the same language and all working together to make our grid more secure," Energy secretary Steven Chu said in a statement.

The new report includes high-level security requirements, a risk assessment framework, an evaluation of privacy concerns, guides to mitigating vulnerabilities, and a summary of research needs. It also recommends a multi-layered security strategy. In total, the report details 189 security requirements. That being said, NIST called the guidelines just the first step in building a secure smart grid.

"These guidelines are a starting point for the sustained national effort that will be required to build a safe, secure and reliable Smart Grid," George Arnold, NIST's national coordinator for smart grid interoperability, said in a statement. "They provide a technical foundation for utilities, hardware and software manufacturers, energy management service providers, and others to build upon."

A report released earlier this year by Pike Research estimated that utility companies worldwide will spend $21 billion by 2015 on smart grid cybersecurity.


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About the Author(s)

J. Nicholas Hoover

Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

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