recommended reading

NIST releases cybersecurity guidelines for smart grid

The National Institute of Standards and Technology released on Sept. 2 guidelines utilities should follow to secure devices on the nation's developing smart grid, but they do little to ensure integrators consider security when combining devices systemwide, experts said.

The three-volume set of guidelines for smart grid cybersecurity strategies focuses on prevention, detection, response and recovery, according to the NIST Smart Grid Cybersecurity Strategy and Requirements' Internal Report 7628. The guidelines include 189 security criteria that are applicable either to the entire smart grid, or to particular parts of the system that businesses and organizations can use to prevent cyberattacks, infiltration of malicious code, and errors that can spread among suppliers and cause widespread electrical outages.

"I view these [guidelines] as the foundational building blocks for how you secure the smart grid," said Marianne Swanson, head of the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel's cybersecurity working group at NIST. "From a very high level, they set the stage for what you need to think about when building the components. Should I use encryption? How do I authenticate? How do I ensure good password controls?"

The smart grid will use two-way communication systems to better monitor use to lower energy consumption.

The guidelines will assist companies managing the smart grid and building the individual parts of the system, including meter vendors and the software developers, Swanson said. They compliment the NIST Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards, which proposed requirements for developing the smart electric grid.

The guidelines combined standards from NIST's Special Publication 800-53, Recommended Security Controls for Federal Information Systems and Organizations, with standards from the Homeland Security Department and the North American Electric Reliability Corp. on protecting the critical infrastructure from cyberattack.

Although the guidelines are a significant step in securing the smart grid, they don't fully address potential vulnerabilities that can emerge when different vendors integrate their product offerings, said Michael Assante, president and chief executive officer of the National Board of Information Security Examiners.

"The approach is focused on the device level, which is a good starting point for any standard," Assante said. "But where is the guidance for the integrators? How do you speak to an IBM, who eventually will become a big force in the smart grid and is already developing comprehensive solutions? If we're going to do all this, we need key design principles to promote security in holistic solutions."

Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute, said the third report in the series presents bottom-up security analysis, which is the most important element of the volume. It provides recommendations for addressing known vulnerabilities in computer systems. The problem, he said, is the information is buried.

"You have to measure your ability to protect -- that's the place to begin," he said. "But there is so much else in [the report] that might accidentally cause people to not focus on that most important piece.

"When you ask people to do everything, they'll actually do nothing," he added. "If NIST doesn't take responsibility for prioritizing what [organizations need to do to secure the smart grid], they're throwing it over the wall to the people who don't claim to understand."

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.