US agency tells electric utilities to shore up authentication

NIST's new publication focuses on authentication and access control

U.S. electric utilities should pay close attention to their authentication systems and access controls to reduce data breaches, a government agency says in a new cybersecurity guide.

About 5 percent of all cybersecurity incidents that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's industrial control cyber team responded to in 2014 were tied to weak authentication, said the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Another four percent of industrial control incidents were related to abuses of access authority, the agency said.

The new cybersecurity guide, released in draft form by NIST's National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence (NCCoE) Tuesday, focuses on helping energy companies reduce their cybersecurity risks by showing them how they can control access to facilities and devices from a single console.

NIST electric cyber guide Screenshot
A new guide from the U.S. National Insititute of Standards and Technology offers advice to electric utilities on preventing cyberattacks through better access control.

"The electric power industry is upgrading older, outdated infrastructure to take advantage of emerging technologies, but this also means greater numbers of technologies, devices, and systems connecting to the grid that need protection from physical and cybersecurity attacks," the guide says.

Part of the problem is that many energy utilities have decentralized identity and access management systems "controlled by numerous departments," according to the guide. That decentralized approach can lead to an inability to identify sources of a problem or attack and a lack of "overall traceability and accountability regarding who has access to both critical and noncritical assets."

The publication recommends a centralized access-control system, with the NCCoE developing an example system that utilities can use.

The guide offers step-by-step instructions allowing utilities to "reduce their risk and gain efficiencies in identity and access management," Donna Dodson, director of the NCCoE, said in a statement.

A 306-page document shows security engineers how to set up two versions of a centralized access-control system using commercially available products, with a focus on reducing opportunities for a cyberattack and for human error.

Working with security experts from the energy sector, the NCCoE staff also developed a scenario describing a security challenge based on normal day-to-day business operations.

The scenario centers on a utility technician who has access to several physical substations and to remote terminal units connected to the company's network in those substations. When she leaves the company, her privileges should be revoked, but without a centralized identity management system, managing routine events can be time-consuming.

NIST is seeking comments on the draft guide.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

By Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?