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NES emphasizes critical importance of Smart Grid security Aug 03, 2017 Read More
UAS: A Vision for Smart Energy Jul 14, 2017 Read More
Role of Smart Grids in building smart cities May 17, 2017 Read More
Smart meter security - how Denmark is upping the ante Apr 28, 2017 Read More

NES urges utility providers to brace for cyberattacks on power grids


Over the last two months, the world has been subject to two major ransomware attacks. The most recent being an attack known as 'Petya', a malicious software that spread through large firms that led to PC's and essential data being locked up and held for ransom. Prior to this incident, the 'Wannacry' ransomware locked data from nearly 230,000 computers used by leading international organizations in at least 150 countries, including the UK’s National Health Service, Russian Ministry of Interiors, and FedEx. These attacks, once again, brought to forefront the significance of cyber security at a time when cyber-crime has evolved into a growth industry with low risks and high returns.

 

In light of this event, Networked Energy Services Corporation (NES), a global smart grid market leader with the industry’s leading Patagonia Energy Applications Platform (EAP ™), has thrown the spotlight on the critical role of security in Smart Grids. The connected infrastructures in power grids such as intelligent networks, smart meters, and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions have increased the possibility of cyber threats in the energy sector. In line with this, the company has urged the community, individuals, organizations and utility providers alike to be prepared to deal with cyberattacks for national security and economic well-being. Utility providers such as Dubai Electricity and Water Authority and Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority in the UAE are stepping up their efforts to ensure security in their grids from such attacks with the installation of smart meters, which is currently underway across the country in a bid to complete over one million smart meters by 2020.

 

Michel Madi, CEO – Middle East, Africa and India, Networked Energy Services Corporation, said: “Smart Grids are not just electrical infrastructure but are huge data networks that are critical for the seamless functioning of the various economic sectors of a country. It has now become imperative for key sectors, particularly energy, to ensure the implementation of the latest security solutions to secure Smart Grids and avert risks. The UAE is one of the leading countries in the region on track in safeguarding their services as the country’s smart metering market looks to increase at a rate of 9 per cent over 2016 to 2024 in line with its Energy Plan 2050.”  NES offers various important security related recommendations including adopting a systematic approach to assess cyber risks, improving the protection of energy systems, fostering a performance-based cybersecurity culture; framing cybersecurity guidelines; and promoting physical preparedness and resilience.

 

About Networked Energy Services Corporation (NES)
 

Networked Energy Services Corporation is a global smart energy leader in the worldwide transformation of the electricity grid into an energy control network, enabling utilities to provide their customers with a more efficient and reliable service, to protect their systems from current and emerging cybersecurity threats, and to offer innovative new services that enable active, intelligence use of energy. NES was formed as a result of the spinoff of Echelon Corporation’s Grid Modernization Division in October 2014. NES is headquartered in the US with R&D centers located in Silicon Valley, North Dakota and Poland, and sales offices throughout the world. NES’ smart grid technology is used in nearly 40 million smart meters and other smart end devices around the world. NES is a member of the OSGP Alliance, a global association of utilities and smart grid companies, which promotes the Open Smart Grid Protocol and cooperates to provide utilities greater value by enabling true, independently-certified, multi-vendor interoperability based upon open international specifications and standards. You can find out more information about NES, its Patagonia Energy Applications PlatformTM (including grid management software, distributed control nodes, and smart meters) and services at: www.networkedenergy.com.

By: Michel Madi, CEO – Middle East, Africa & India, Networked Energy Services Corporation


According to a study by the WHO, nearly 54 per cent of the global population resided in cities in 2015, at an increase of 30 per cent since 1950 [1]. The urban residents are forecasted to rise to 60 per cent of the world population by 2030, adding 2.5 billion more people to urban areas by 2050 [2]. With such rapid growth, future cities need to become smart to make judicious use of non-renewable resources and existing infrastructure and mitigate the impact of climate change and global warming.
 

What is a smart city? It is an intelligent metropolitan which employs innovative technologies to enhance the performance of vital local services, including energy, water, transportation, healthcare, waste management, and public safety. The use of various channels of communication and information technology (IT) allows smart cities to effectively address many challenges such as a rapidly expanding population, environmental sustainability, and economic viability to offer a safe, secured and clean environment to its residents.
 

While there are several features of a smart city, the single most important aspect is its energy infrastructure, which impacts all other critical functions of the city and a Smart Grid is the solution for a sustainable, resilient and affordable energy infrastructure. But what is a Smart Grid? It is a dynamic, interactive, and real-time infrastructure concept that modernizes power systems through automation, remote monitoring, and control. It also informs consumers about the usage and cost to enable them to make informed decisions.
 

Research and Markets’ ‘Emerging Markets Smart Grid: Outlook 2017 [3] report states that most Smart Grid investments have been concentrated in developed nations. Countries in North America, Western Europe, and East Asia represent over 75 per cent of the installed base of smart meters and other pioneering smart grid initiatives. For instance, the USA passed the bill for Smart Grids as early as in 2007 and earmarked funds to develop its smart grid infrastructure.
 

Since then, the US Government has launched several initiatives, including the Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIS) for 2009-2014 to modernize the country’s electrical infrastructure. The USD 8 billion joint investment program, consisting of 99 cost-shared projects and involving more than 200 electric utility providers and participating organizations, deployed more than 15 million smart meters, 1,200 phasor measurement units, 19,000 units of distribution technology, and an assortment of customer systems [4]. Likewise, nearly 30 Smart Grid Projects with a total investment of EUR 300 million were started in Europe [5].  
 

Now many developing countries are exploring the multiple benefits of Smart Grids. Almost 50 countries forecasted to invest USD 268 billion in building Smart Grid infrastructure in the next 10 years [6]. Among them is the MENA region that is rapidly adopting renewable energy initiatives to manage its robust energy demands. The deployment of Smart Grids in the GCC can help the region save up to USD 10 billion in infrastructural investment by 2020 [7].
 

The UAE leads the region with its path-breaking initiatives to build smart cities. It launched the Energy Plan 2050 to increase the contribution of clean energy and decrease dependence on natural gas to generate power in line with UAE Vision 2021 [8]. It also pushed the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy during the inauguration of the second phase of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in 2015, which involves AED 100 billion in Green Fund investments and AED 50 billion for the park [9].
 

Smart Grids are modern power network that are the future of the energy sector as they have the tremendous potential to improve the quality of power and make energy sources reliable through demand response and comprehensive monitoring capabilities. Through the intelligent use of digital technologies and innovative application, they can contribute in the development of zero-energy buildings and green communities. Smart Grids also encourage consumers to rationalize their consumption by bringing them closer to energy sources and providing them greater control over their usage. However, initial installation cost pose a significant challenge, which can be addressed by formulating policies and offering incentives by governments to encourage investment in transforming legacy power networks to Smart Grids.
 

[1] http://www.who.int/gho/urban_health/situation_trends/urban_population_growth/en/
[2] http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/news/population/world-urbanization-prospects-2014.html
[3] http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/emerging-markets-smart-grid-outlook-2017-300411871.html
[4] https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/8-billion-in-smart-grid-investments
[5] http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository
[6] http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/emerging-markets-smart-grid-outlook-2017-300411871.html
[7] http://meconstructionnews.com/20745/smart-grids-can-save-gcc-countries-10bn-by-2020
[8] http://www.thenational.ae/uae/uae-turns-green-with-new-power-plan-2050
[9] http://gulfnews.com/news/uae/government/dubai-clean-energy-strategy-2050-launched-1.1628043

Danish utility SEAS-NVE collaborated with Networked Energy Services to implement Patagonia Smart Meter Security Enhancements


Mention ‘security’ today and many people immediately think of hacks or viruses and the need for cybersecurity.
Likewise, many assume that a new IT-based system comes with adequate security built in.
But these assumptions are both quite wrong when it comes to smart meters, says Emil Gurevitch, Security Software Engineer at Networked Energy Services (NES), a provider of smart grid and security solutions globally.
“We often see people equating a smart meter system to a traditional IT system but their characteristics are very different. That needs to be understood or the risk analysis won’t be accurate.”
 

Smart Meter Security Landscape

There are three sets of threats that need to be addressed for a smart metering system, Gurevitch points out. There are the ‘old school’ threats of fraud, theft and safety, which have long been a top concern for utilities.
There is a newer and growing group of regulatory threats around non-compliance, such as the General Data Protection Regulation in Europe. And then there are all the threats associated with IT, such as cyberattacks that can prevent a utility from delivering its services.
“Some of these threats are similar to those of an IT system, but their priorities differ,” comments Gurevitch. “And they are not static and continue to evolve and so the security solutions must likewise continue to evolve.”
 

SEAS-NVE Investigates Security  

Back in 2014, when utility IT breaches were starting to make headlines, Denmark’s largest cooperative utility SEAS-NVE was encouraged to look more closely into its own security arrangements.
“At the time our smart meters were installed, security wasn’t a priority issue,” says Bo Danielsen, Head of Department at SEAS-NVE. “But with smart meters as a critical infrastructure for our business offering 400,000 potential attack points, we needed to ensure the system was as secure as possible.”
The upshot was an approach to the Technical University of Denmark located near to Copenhagen as an outside party for academic input. This resulted in Gurevitch, then a master’s student there, undertaking for his thesis a detailed investigation of SEAS-NVE’s smart metering system from a security perspective and presenting solutions to address problems found.
“Our intention was to create a win-win-win solution for our customers, the company and the vendor by aiming for the most secure system on the market,” says Danielsen.
 

Advanced Smart Meter Security

The outcome of that investigation was a series of security enhancements to NES’s Patagonia smart metering platform aimed at addressing both the current security needs as well as future issues that may arise during the lifetime of the system.
“These features provide higher levels of protection end to end across the system, from the central management layer at the utility to the internet-connected devices such as data concentrators and the smart meters themselves,” says Gurevitch.
Examples he quotes include improved communications security between the different layers of the system and a new key management system providing automatic key updates at regular intervals. Others include improved intrusion detection based on the smart meter characteristics to detect abnormal behaviours, and improved ‘compartmentalisation’ to ensure that a breach into a meter is restricted to that meter alone.
“Signals of possible security breaches land at the utility management system and with these enhanced features, the false-positive rate has been reduced. So if a signal is received, one can be very sure there is something going on,” he says.
 

OSGP security compliance

Another outcome of the project that Gurevitch highlights is an update of the security definitions and specifications of the Open Smart Grid Protocol (OSGP), a global open standard for smart grid applications.
“This positively impacts on all those who implement OSGP-based solutions, while from NES’s perspective, the updates automatically benefit all other customers.”
He comments that when he speaks to customers, he wants to hear that the new enhancements are “just another update” that has come virtually unnoticed via a remote firmware upgrade. “It is essential that updates should not change the performance of the system and that the security features are working behind the scenes without impacting on the meter data collection process.
“If a security feature prevents the utility from meeting its KPIs, then it is not a security feature in our view.”

SEAS-NVE security experience

Danielsen says that from SEAS-NVE’s perspective, the partnership between the three parties - utility, academia and  vendor - has been very fruitful.
“Security is a common problem we face as an industry and it has enabled us to have a hands-on role in the direction of developments in this area,” he says.
“If a utility suffers a security breach then it is likely that SEAS-NVE will face a similar attack and we feel it is important to have the bigger picture rather than focus on just our own little corner of the world.”
Danielsen offers one piece of advice to utilities. He states that the remote firmware update process isn’t trivial and needs planning and monitoring to implement and complete for many thousands of smart meters. For his part, Gurevitch, who notes that further security updates are in the pipeline, advises that utilities looking to enhance their security should complete a risk assessment in advance.
“One of the key lessons here is that you need to understand the security issues you are dealing with in order to determine your security needs and priorities. There is no one solution that fits all and a risk assessment is essential.”

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