Cybersecurity in the Energy Sector

2 min read

Cybersecurity is a critical asset for companies in the energy sector. Over the years, the number of cyberattacks on vital infrastructure has increased, and have had significant negative impacts, both social and economic. While the theft of data rarely causes direct damage to society, disruption of energy is extremely harmful and can cause significant damage to life and property. With this in mind, cybersecurity in the energy and utilities sector should be given utmost importance.

Cybersecurity in the Energy Sector

The energy sector is evolving, and power grids are swiftly undergoing digital transformation. New technological innovations like IoT sensors, smart meters, and integrated cloud services are being deployed to give a boost to legacy hardware and software. The utility vertical is enhancing its efficiency and customer experience, and cybercriminals are increasingly targeting these innovations to counteract their benefits.

The energy industry plays a significant role in everyday life, and any negative impact on service delivery can have a compounding effect on the entire region. This effect is not limited to financial loss; rather, it can be more accurately described as an example of societal collapse. Damage due to cyberattacks has an extended impact and could result in disruption of everyday life and, potentially, civil unrest. Simultaneously, utility providers and energy companies have private consumer details and billing information stored in their systems—including sensitive information like credit card details. Hence, maintaining robust security for digital infrastructure is as important as doing so for physical infrastructure.

Energy companies are investing heavily in various security solutions to address their cybersecurity concerns. Utility companies are also investing in effective security services such as antivirus, security alert software, firewalls, and network monitoring services. Siloed energy solutions are provided by experts who are trained and know exactly how to fight against attackers who try to access sensitive systems.

The electricity grid is an essential part of any country’s critical infrastructure, and as its technology evolves, so do its vulnerabilities. As cyberterrorism becomes more advanced, any sophisticated hacker could disrupt the supply of energy or access confidential data. An expertise in IT security, coupled with a deep understanding of the electricity utility environment, could help minimize these risks. Technology-driven opportunities in the energy and utilities sector have also opened the door to significant risks and cyber threats.

The energy and utility industry faces few challenges when it comes to defending itself against cyber threats:

  • Strict, service-specific guidelines
  • Non-standard, mission-critical applications (SCADA, data historian, etc.)
  • Strict access control requirements
  • Extensive disaster recovery protocols

Cybersecurity is vital for energy management as grid modernization potentially opens up the system to more vulnerabilities. A grid that has a higher number of distributed resources increases the potential attack surface for cyberattacks.

Benefits of cybersecurity solutions for the energy and utilities vertical include:

  • Logical identification and prioritization of SCADA assets that are more likely to be targeted
  • Visibility of resources that can potentially be exploited to attack SCADA and classified networks
  • Ability to profile expected behavior of SCADA devices as well as associated resources
  • Establishment of a continuous monitoring program that identifies anomalous behavioral patterns, helps defend against specific cyber threats, and protects critical assets
  • Fulfillment of requirements for industry-specific regulations, such as NRC RG 5.71, NERC CIP, and NEI 08-09 Rev 6

Because of the critical nature of protection required for power grids and associated infrastructure, cybersecurity professionals in the energy sector face a unique set of challenges. Network security and regulatory compliance need to be mandated and tightly regulated because non-standard systems, such as SCADA devices, make data collection for comprehensive cybersecurity difficult. IT security companies must deliver advanced network security and automated compliance assurance in order to protect the energy and utility industry against cybercrime, APTs, and costly data breaches.

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