Cyber Security in Utilities–What Can We Do?

The following article by guest contributor Dr. Ralph Martinez is part of a series of articles focused on energy issues of importance to our region and as part of a lead up to the 2nd Annual Re-energize the Americas conference being held on Oct 17 & 18th, 2012 at the Las Cruces, NM Convention Center.

Cyber Security in “Smart Grids”

North American networks and devices come under attack billions of times each year. In the nuclear industry alone, the National Nuclear Security Administration estimates that more than 10 million cyber attacks occur in the United States each day. United States Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently stated, “The potential for the next Pearl Harbor could very well be a cyber-attack. The capability to paralyze this country is here now…and there is a high risk.” Certain assets of the United States’ critical infrastructure are particularly attractive to potential cyber saboteurs, including components of utility networks and energy and institutional facilities. This reality presents significant challenges to utilities and stakeholders, since consumers are dependent upon reliable electricity, water, gas infrastructures and information technology (IT) services. The problems facing enterprises and institutions around the world was depicted in the 2009 CBS Minutes video clip on Cyber War.

This year the Re-energize the Americas (RtA) Conference has three sessions on cyber and energy security to discuss awareness of challenges and technology solutions for protecting major critical infrastructure in the United States and international utilities. Specifically, the Regional Cyber and Energy Security (RCES) Center was formed at The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) to address the cyber and energy security challenges facing diverse utilities, energy systems, and information and communications infrastructures in the region, including grid tied forms of alternative energy generation (e.g. solar and wind). Our mission is to develop innovative technologies, security strategies, and deployment solutions while raising cyber security awareness throughout the Paso Del Norte region and beyond.

Utilities worry about smart meter cyber security

Key components of this mission include development of innovative processes, testing and certification methods, education and training, and products and services to ensure secure deployment in the generation, distribution, operations, and customer domains. The RCES Center will begin providing these services while protecting against cyber attacks, cyber physical attacks, equipment failures, and insider and natural threats.

The RCES Center is funded by the City of El Paso’s Planning and Economic Development division, and works with its partners to deploy and implement cyber and energy security services and technology solutions for utility and enterprise stakeholders. –Ralph Martinez

www.rces.utep.edu

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