ICS Cyber Security Conference tackles cybersecurity for distributed energy resources

2020 ICS Cyber Security Conference tackles cybersecurity for distributed energy resources

Today marked the start of the 2020 Industrial Control Systems (ICS) Cyber Security Conference. The annual event brings together ICS cyber security stakeholders across various industries, along with operations and control engineers, government officials, vendors and academics.

Kicking off the first day of the conference was a panel discussion on cybersecurity for distributed energy resources. Panelists shared insight on securing grid edge devices, and the cybersecurity solutions available today and in the near-future that can help identify anomalies and potential threats to a modern grid.

“The power grid is something that is the largest, if not the most complex network in the country,” said Pete Tseronis, current chairman of the Utility SuperCluster, who moderated the panel. “How it works and what is dependent upon that ecosystem requires a lot of operational but also informational technology.”

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The panelists all emphasized that implementing new technologies in the energy sector is a balancing act with the primary goal of ensuring the power grid never goes down. For this reason, they said IT/OT convergence is a major challenge, but a necessity.

“What we’ve tried to do from a strategic standpoint is figure out how we can capitalize on some of the natural segregation of environments that exist in our industry simply because of the way our industry has developed, between IT and OT, and then make very careful strategic decisions about how we integrate those environments to meet our business needs,” said Shanna Ramirez, vice president and chief integrated security officer, CPS Energy.

While many are currently focused on OT/IT convergence, John Walsh, vice president of business development and strategy for BedRock Systems, said it’s also important to pay attention to what’s happening further down the stack, on the OT side. Here, he said it’s important to ensure that the devices, applications, analytics, sensors, and data can all be trusted.

“One of the big challenges we continue to see on the OT side is as we move down the stack,” Walsh said. “What’s happening is as the adversaries are beginning to be pushed back more by the improvement of technologies…it’s getting more difficult to penetrate higher in the stack. So what are they doing? They’re targeting the virtual environment and they’re targeting down the stack because by getting into that part of the stack they can take down the whole system.”

As the industrial Internet of Things continues to revolutionize the power grid, many are concerned about the associated cyber risk. But Jonathan White, Cyber-Physical Systems Security group manager, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, said that the increase in IIoT devices also brings opportunity.

“When we talk about the grid edge, we talk about what’s coming. The natural concern is there’s so many devices, how will we secure this,” White said. “My big takeaway is, we’re going to have these millions of devices and it’s going to provide advantages that we don’t have on the system today. So when you think of millions of devices, you’re going to have a quantity of data that is orders of magnitude more than what we have today…We have a lot more data sensing various levels to identify that we’re under threat and even more so, we have more things we can do to respond.”

The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence is a collaborative hub where industry organizations, government agencies, and academic institutions work together to address businesses’ most pressing cybersecurity issues. The panelists recommended utilizing this and other resources.

“I want people to understand more than anything it’s not about pushing products, it’s about helping with solutions,” said James McCarthy, senior security engineer, National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence. “The products are always going to be there. Technology is going to be developed. But we are in a rapidly changing environment and it’s not necessarily going to wait for us to be secure before it decides to evolve on it’s own and that’s what we’re seeing right now. In order to accommodate what’s happening out there, there are resources you can reach out to.”

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