Over the past few years, the utilities industry has made a concentrated effort to make key infrastructure "smarter." The integration of data-capturing devices and automated, software-based management systems has the potential to create smart electric grids that can more effectively use and distribute power, reducing energy costs and environmental impact in the process.
However, turning power grids into connected devices has potentially harrowing implications – a concentrated cyberattack could cause lengthy and widespread outages, not only withholding electricity from businesses and residences, but disrupting communications, healthcare systems and the economy. According to many cybersecurity researchers, the likelihood of a potential problem occurring is less of an "if" and more of a "when."
Ramping up disaster recovery services and cybersecurity protocols is key to shielding the smart electric grid from a devastating attack. While the federal government tries to increase the efficacy and stringency of its own security measures, it's important that utility companies – from national generators to local distributors – build up their own prevention and backup systems, according to a recent white paper by the three co-chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center's Electric Grid Cybersecurity Initiative. This effort will require a hybrid system that responds to both physical and cybersecurity threats.
"Managing cybersecurity risks on the electric grid raises challenges unlike those in more traditional business IT networks and systems," the report stated. "[I]t will be necessary to resolve differences that remain between the frameworks that govern cyber attack response and traditional disaster response."
Disaster recovery efforts need to include backup digital systems that rival physical ones. Electric grids require faultless failover technology that can depend on a secondary backup network if the primary one is taken offline for any reason. As the Baker Institute pointed out in a recent Forbes article, the measure of a disaster recovery system's effectiveness is based on whether the grid can be restarted following a major breach, disruption or cyberattack. Without a system that can effectively monitor, prevent and immediately respond to such threats, the smart electric grid could be putting many key infrastructure systems in danger.