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6 Keys to Securing Critical Infrastructure and NERC Compliance

June 29, 2010

With the computer systems and networks of electric, natural gas, and water distribution systems now connected to the Internet, the nation’s critical infrastructure is more vulnerable to attack. A recent Wall Street Journal article stated that many utility IT environments have already been breached by spies, terrorists, and hostile countries, often leaving bits of code behind that could be used against critical infrastructure during times of hostility. The U.S. Cyber Consequence Unit declared that the cost of such an attack could be substantial: “It is estimated that the destruction from a single wave of cyber attacks on U.S. critical infrastructures could exceed $700 billion USD - the equivalent of 50 major hurricanes hitting U.S. soil at once.” Vulnerability and exposure of utilities’ critical infrastructures originate from the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and Distribution Automation (DA) systems that communicate and control devices on utility grids and distribution systems. Many of these systems have been in operation for years (sometimes for decades), and are not designed with security in mind. Regulatory bodies have recognized the many security issues to critical infrastructure and have begun to establish and enforce requirements in an attempt to shore up potential exposures. One such regulation is NERC CIP, which includes eight reliability standards consisting of 160 requirements for electric and power companies to address. And as of July 1, 2010, these companies must be “auditably compliant” or else they risk getting slapped with a $1 million per day, per CIP violation.