Are utilities keeping up with cyber threats?


Siemens and the Ponemon Institute have released a new report that assesses the global energy industry’s ability to meet the growing threat of cyberattacks to utilities and critical infrastructure connected to the electrical grid.

The report – Caught in the Crosshairs: Are Utilities Keeping Up with the Industrial Cyber Threat? – details the utility industry’s vulnerability to cyber risk and its readiness to address future attacks, and provides solutions to help industry executives and managers better secure critical infrastructure.

This article was originally published in Smart Energy International 5-2019. Read the full digimag here or subscribe to receive a print copy here.

“The utility industry has woken up to the industrial cyber threat and is taking important steps to shore up defences, we hope this report helps utilities benchmark their readiness and leverage best practices to stay ahead of attackers,” says Leo Simonovich, Siemens VP & global head, industrial cyber & digital security.

The study surveyed 1,726 utility professionals responsible for securing or overseeing cyber risk in Operational Technology (OT) environments at electric utilities with gas, solar, wind assets, and water utilities across the globe.

It identified key vulnerabilities in energy infrastructure that malicious actors seek to exploit, including common security gaps that are created as utilities rely on digitalization to leverage data analytics, artificial intelligence, and balance the grid with intermittent renewable energy and distributed power generation.

In brief:

• As utilities increasingly adopt business models that connect OT power generation, transmission, and distribution assets to Information Technology (IT) systems, critical infrastructure is more vulnerable to cyberattacks, according to the study.

• The risk of cyberattacks on the utility industry may be worsening with 56%

of respondents reporting at least one shutdown or operational data loss per year, and 25% impacted by mega attacks, which are frequently aided with expertise developed by nation-state actors.

• The vulnerability of critical infrastructure to cyberattacks has potential to cause severe financial, environmental and infrastructure damage, and according to all respondents, 64% say sophisticated attacks are a top challenge and 54% expect an attack on critical infrastructure in the next 12 months.

• Cyber threats present a greater risk to critical infrastructure – compared to IT systems – and are concerned with unique industry challenges, including ensuring availability, reliability and safety of electricity delivery.

• Industry-wide, readiness to address cyberattacks is uneven and has common blind spots, especially with regards to the unique cybersecurity requirements for OT, and the importance of distinguishing between security for OT and security for IT.

This remains a major challenge for many organizations across the industry. Only 42% rated their cyber readiness as high, and only 31% rated readiness to respond to or contain a breach as high.

“Increasing electrification across a range of sectors is a crucial piece in the decarbonization puzzle, but, as the Siemens and Ponemon Institute report documents, an increase in grid-connected infrastructure creates additional vulnerabilities to cyberattacks. A devastating attack would not only harm the economy, but it could also slow down the rate of electrification. This report provides recommendations to help utilities better address these risks. Getting this right is not only important for the security of our electricity system, but also for achieving our climate goals,” said Randy Bell, director of the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center.

The results of the report were released at a forum hosted by the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. focused on the growing national, economic, and energy security threat that cyberattacks pose to the utility industry.