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Optimize smart grids with lessons from the IT team

By Donna Donnowitz
November 26, 2013

Smart grids may have a hidden weakness that IT professionals are more likely to spot than utility providers - cybersecurity threats. According to InformationWeek, the common perception among IT circles is that cybersecurity is a threat waiting to happen with many smart grid deployments, and many sophisticated attacks are already beginning to occur across the globe.

The Department of Homeland security released a report noting that 41 percent of incidents reported by the agency last year were related to the energy industry alone. This is because many firms implement smart grid technologies, turning their power infrastructure into a sophisticated IP network, without applying the appropriate countermeasures to keep the systems secure and reliable.

This shouldn't dissuade a power company from investing in smart grid technologies of course, but rather be a hard lesson regarding the potential vulnerability of these networks and a primer on the steps that can be taken to avoid disaster down the road.

Smarts grids are good for everyone
There are many benefits to invest in a smart grid deployment for both a utility provider and its customers. Real-time monitoring of power consumption, improved ability to manage distribution, smart meters and increased understanding of user patterns can reduce operational costs and help reduce power bills for consumers. The trick is ensuring the security of these smarter networks at the same time.

'Password' needs to be updated
One of the major problems, according to the news source, is outdated methods and technologies being used to implement smart grids. The use of default passwords, for example, leaves a grid highly vulnerable to attack, while updating terminal servers and Remote I/O protocols may help optimize both the grid's potential and its security.

The need to upgrade technology, both the hardware and software side of smart grid deployments, is obvious. The current solutions providers are using simply aren't adequate for consumer needs or the firms' own IT demands. Following current IEEE standards, investing in the right serial to Ethernet converters and optimizing the networks for security will help promote a stronger, more reliable power distribution system. While this may not seem easy, it is essential for utility providers' futures. Firms should take a lesson from their IT departments, and focus on the critical areas of operation first in order to ensure stability and security for the future.

Perle offers a range of cost effective serial-to-Ethernet converters to help meet NERC-CIP compliance for the protection of critical cyberassets in substations. The IOLAN SDS HV/LDC Terminal Server is designed to meet harsh environments associated with Power Substations with attributes such as support for substation AC and DC voltage ranges, extended operating temperatures and meeting emission, immunity and safety approvals associated with substation IT equipment.


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