System Engineering Cyber Security Approaches for Distribution, Transmission and Generation Systems

by | Nov 16, 2018 | Blog, Cyber Security, Grid Modernization

System Engineering Cyber Security Approaches for Distribution, Transmission and Generation Systems

By: Kay Stefferud, Director of Implementation Services
865-218-4600 x8104



Like many other systems of systems (SoS), the electric grid is facing challenges as devices originally intended to be either standalone or locally networked are now being connected to both advanced management systems and to non-operational systems with exposure to the Internet.

Generation, transmission and distribution systems which were previously connected to control centers through utility owned communications systems and air gapped from utility Information Technology (IT) systems are now accessing data and in some cases expected to transfer information to and from back office applications such as asset management systems. As recent events in Ukraine demonstrated, attacks on the power grid include not just attacks for economic gain, but attacks developed and deployed by nation-states. Click this link for more details.  The ability to compromise Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) controlled devices could potentially impact control of generation, transmission and distribution systems possibly causing multiple geographically dispersed outages.

Many new devices such as smart thermostats, electric vehicle chargers, home energy management systems, communicating smart inverters, and a slew of smart devices are now being inter-connected and in some cases communicate with utility systems including demand response (DR) systems.

Further millions of smart meters located at some utilities’ residential customers are passing information to outage management systems as well as to billing systems.  Confidentiality, integrity and accountability of billing information from smart meters is a concern as being able to hack into these meters could allow attackers to reduce their monthly bills. The goal of one common class of attackers is economic gain, and thus electricity meters are an attractive target. Note that if meters could be compromised and indicate spurious outages, then billing, outage management and customer service systems could all be impacted including through denial of service attacks designed to prevent restoration of service.

In addition, the electric grid is facing unique challenges as societal demands to reduce carbon output are prompting many public utility commissions to mandate renewable energy targets. Thus rapidly increasing numbers of distributed energy resources, not subjected to utility cyber controls, are being installed on distribution and transmission systems.

System engineering techniques to address electric grid cyber challenges include:

  • Use cases to identify threat and cyber-attack surfaces
  • Failure mode and effects analysis
  • Recommended cyber enterprise architecture for advanced applications controlling SCADA systems
  • Effective implementation of North American Electric Reliability Corporation critical infrastructure protection (NERC CIP) requirements
  • Cyber security requirements for system procurement Requests for Proposals (RFPs)
  • Secure communications protocols for SCADA communications

Cyber security solutions for Operational Technology (OT) systems must not rely solely on IT solutions that were designed to protect IT assets with different risk profiles, environments, and constraints. Effective OT cyber protection techniques include improving isolation of SCADA control systems to prevent attacks that originated from the Internet or utility enterprise, protecting devices including advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) meters and smart inverters at the utility-customer interface and developing effective data exchange mechanisms between OT, IT and cloud-based solutions.

Kay presented on system engineering approaches to cyber security and recommended cyber solutions to protect OT, and billing systems, at the Cyber Security track of the INCOSE Mini Conference held in San Diego on Saturday December 1, 2018.  For access to that presentation, please contact Kay.

The presentation covers cyber security solutions including a step by step system engineering approach to cyber security, cyber security solutions for advanced distribution management systems, and protection of devices at the utility-customer boundary.

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