The Internet of Things’ Impact on the Smart Grid — Why Security Is a Must

Ever wonder what a smart grid attack might look like? To the average citizen, it may appear like a standard power outage. Lights and appliances go dark. On closer inspection, however, a power grid attack is more sophisticated and involves complex network and operation system intrusions.

That’s what nearly 230,000 citizens experienced in a 2015 Ukraine power grid attack that left many people without any electricity from 1 to 6 hours. It was the first well-known attack of its kind on a power grid, and it understandably put governments and utilities sectors on edge. The U.S. Department of Energy released a report in 2017 expressing concern that the U.S. smart grid faced “imminent danger” thanks to new sophisticated and creative exploits.

With the dawn of the Internet of Things (IoT), the utilities industry and smart grids are poised to enjoy unprecedented benefits—but they will also face new, complex challenges, particularly when it comes to security. How can the industry avoid potential catastrophe and reap the greatest rewards from IoT?

What is a smart grid? A smart grid refers to the electric grid and includes several operational functions for energy efficiency such as smart meters, smart appliances, and more.

What is a smart grid? A smart grid refers to the electric grid and includes several operational functions for energy efficiency such as smart meters, smart appliances, and more.

The Utilities Industry Moves to IoT

It’s clear that the utilities industry is looking to capitalize heavily in IoT investments. Estimates state that the utilities industry will be a major leader in IoT spending by 2020 and this market alone is expected to be worth $15 billion by 2024.

IoT will bring many benefits to the utilities industry and play a key role in improving the smart grid. Increased efficiency, reliability, proactive maintenance, and visibility into how energy is consumed are just a few of the promised advantages that IoT will bring to a leveled-up smart grid. In addition, it’s estimated that automated connected devices will help households across the nation reduce their energy bills by 10 to 25 percent and will provide up to $2 trillion in customer benefits overtime.

Those anticipated benefits are generating a lot of enthusiasm. However, they won’t make much difference if a weak security infrastructure hinders those efforts. The increasing potential of cybersecurity breaches across the industry, in which sensitive information could become compromised, could become a major challenge.

IoT Considerations for the Smart Grid

Managing a nationwide smart grid at scale with billions of autonomous devices on the network is no small task. There are several challenges that the utilities industry must face, including:

  • Security. Security is arguably the most important aspect of the smart grid’s IoT future. Estimates suggest that 1.5 billion connected devices will be managed by utilities companies by 2020. As more connected devices get added to the grid, it will become increasingly important to make sure they are secure, as each and every device will offer a new avenue for hackers to maliciously exploit.
  • Interoperability. Ensuring interoperability for connected devices is a must. Effective communication between devices ensures smart grid resiliency, reliability, and power management and provides greater visibility into grid operations.
  • Logistics and scalability. To increase the efficiency of a smart grid, the utilities industry needs scalability at the forefront. In addition to the logistics of adding 1.5 billion connected devices by 2020, the industry will need to learn how to add these devices at a rapid pace.

A Focus on IoT Security

What’s the big takeaway? The industry must prioritize security in a way that’s scalable and economical for the industry. An IoT-ready utilities industry must remain safe and secure, taking advantage of threat intelligence and security analytics to protect all aspects of the infrastructure—as well as distributed devices and related systems—and prevent attacks. Data encryption, authentication technologies, and physical security will be no-brainers.

The industry stands to gain a lot by leveraging IoT to advance the smart grid for better energy efficiency. However, it will take considerable care and effort to lift the grid from its legacy physical infrastructure and guide it toward fulfilling its IoT potential. Increased security standards will be key to ensuring that the energy efficiencies of IoT devices are realized. Without these essential measures in place, the dreamed-about IoT visibility and automation-of-energy benefits will not be possible for an advanced smart grid.

To learn more, see Ron Ih’s IoT security series for an understanding of cryptography, device security tips, public key infrastructure (PKI) fundamentals and more.


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Kyrio Security Services is the foundation of network security for some of the largest networks in the world. Kyrio is the exclusive provider of public key infrastructure (PKI) security to the OpenADR (Automated Demand Response) utility industry consortium ensuring the identity and integrity of devices connecting to the smart grid. PKI today protects broadband networks across the globe, serving hundreds of millions of customers. A proven and trusted technology, PKI is well positioned to protect smart grid networks of today and tomorrow and the IoT devices connected to them.

About KYRIO

For manufacturers and service providers, Kyrio accelerates and deploys new network innovations into the ecosystem. Backed by the power of CableLabs, Kyrio sets technology on a path to commercialization, enabling not just today but tomorrow’s communication.